Before I turn to the matter of today's debate, may I offer the House the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who had wished to be present at this debate but is currently attending to the Northern Ireland peace talks? I am sure that the whole House wishes him success in that effort.
As we meet for this debate, a second wave of refugees is crossing from Kosovo into the neighbouring countries. Like all those who have made it into Macedonia, Albania or Montenegro in the past three weeks, none of them wanted to leave. All of them have been forced by fear to flee the terror and the brutality that has been visited upon Kosovo by President Milosevic.
Thousands of them have now been interviewed by the remaining members of the Kosovo verification mission, or by one of the United Nations agencies working in the refugee camps. Consistently they tell the same story: of Serb special police ordering them at the point of a gun to leave their homes within five minutes; of villages being burnt as they left; sometimes, of young men being separated from their families and disappearing; occasionally, of young women separated and subjected to systematic rape.
Some made their way on foot over the hillsides. Among them were pregnant women, some of whom gave birth on the journey under the sky. Others were forced on to the shuttle trains that plied back and forth from Pristina to the Macedonian border—2,000 to 3,000 per train, all standing, all too close to breathe in comfort, for a slow, seven-hour journey without water or sanitation.
We are witnessing in Kosovo the largest forced deportation in Europe since the time of Stalin or Hitler. This exodus is not the result of spontaneous acts of brutality; it was planned in Belgrade and is co-ordinated from Belgrade. That does not acquit those in the field from their own responsibility for the crimes that they commit. It is no defence against a war crime to plead that one was only following orders.
Tomorrow, I shall meet Judge Arbour, the chief prosecutor of the International War Crimes Tribunal. I shall promise her Britain's full co-operation in bringing to justice those who have stained Kosovo with ethnic cleansing and genocide. I shall be handing over a dossier of material with information on multiple atrocities from the past three weeks of killing and ethnic cleansing. I shall pass to her all the names that we have of the commanders of the army and police units who have been present when those crimes took place. I shall share with her our photographs of the recently disturbed earth where we fear mass graves may be found. I shall offer her any information that we have that could help her to pursue the chain of command for those crimes all the way to the top in Belgrade.
My right hon. Friend's words are all very well, but what will they do other than make the tough Serbs fight to the death in the knowledge that they will have to appear before a war crimes tribunal?
First, they are not just words. I have outlined the action that I shall take tomorrow and the action that I am taking to enable the International War Crimes Tribunal to do its work. My hon. Friend has repeatedly stressed the need to consult the United Nations. May I remind him that the war crimes tribunal was set up by the United Nations and is on the authority of the United Nations? There is an obligation on all of us, especially the permanent members of the Security Council, to make sure that the war crimes tribunal can do its work.
These are no idle threats. As a result of the rigorous and robust policy that we have taken against war crimes in Bosnia, we now have in The Hague awaiting trial half of all the war criminals currently indicted in former Yugoslavia. We will pursue those guilty of war crimes in Kosovo with the same vigour and the same results.
We have not declared war on Serbia. I say to my hon. Friends that, as I keep repeating, the people who represent and work for Serbia in this country are perfectly welcome here because we have not declared war on Serbia. Nor do we seek a war in which—[Interruption.] I am not entirely sure what the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) finds funny in this subject; it is a serious matter on which the lives of thousands of people turn.
We are not seeking a war against Belgrade, or to defeat Belgrade in war. We are seeking, through our military action, the limited—but nevertheless essential—task of enabling those dispossessed from Kosovo to return to their homes under international protection.
In the meantime, Britain and our allies have responded to the terror in Kosovo on two fronts. The first and most pressing of these is meeting the urgent humanitarian need of the victims of the terror. I hope that I can speak for all in the House—whatever their views on the conflict—when I record our appreciation of the magnificent efforts by our troops in Macedonia to meet the needs of the tidal wave of refugees. In just two days, British troops constructed capacity in camps for 30,000 refugees. Throughout both day and night, soldiers coming off defence duties volunteered to help with the relief work.
The House will be aware that the Government of Macedonia are concerned about the impact of the tide of refugees on the stability of their community. However, I am pleased that the Prime Minister of Macedonia was able to respond within twelve hours to our plea for a refugee sanctuary in Macedonia under the protection of the international community.
I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who was the first Development Minister to visit the region after the exodus, and whose vigorous intervention helped to get things moving on the ground.
The extraordinary and swift generosity of the British public in response to appeals for donations to the refugees demonstrates the profound degree to which our constituents have been moved by their plight. They have already given well over £16 million.
As a Government, we have committed £20 million to the refugee programme —one kof the largest national donations. We will also be contributing £27 million as our share of the £170 million which has been agreed by the European Union. The UK contribution to the air bridge into skopje has alone flown in over 1,300 tonnnes of relief supplies.
We are exploring with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees whether there are injured or seriously ill refugees who cannot be cared for within the countries where they have sought refuge. We have today asked the UNHCR for a list of the first twenty people whom we can bring to Britain for intensive medical care. However, there is little suppport among Kosovar Albanians for a policy of dispersing the refugees to the different corners of the world. The overwhelming ambition of the refugees is to return to Kosovo and to rebuild their own homes.
The Foreign Secretary has twice mentioned the Government's policy of enabling the population to return to Kosovo. What interests the House more than anything at present is what plans the Government have for making that possible. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House — and to the country, for that matter —how the Government plan to enable the population to return to Kosovo?
I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that he anticipates the very passage in my speech in which I turn to the military campaign intended to secure the return of the Kosovarsto Kosovo, the necessary parallel to our humanitarian work.
May I say to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), and to the House, that not one refugee who has made it over the border has said that they fled to avoid the NATO bombing? Not one of them has blamed the bombing for the behaviour of President Milosevic's forces. The view repeatedly and vigorously expressed by their leaders is that the NATO campaign must be pressed home so that they can return home Earlier today, I met a dozen Kosovar Albanians. Every single one gave the NATO action their full support.
One of those people had been forced to leave Pristina only two weeks ago. He had been one of the last to leave. He described how the city had been emptied by armed men, many of them masked, ordering people to leave their homes. If they thought that the household had and money, they would demand payment of DM 5,000 to allow and elderly father to accompany a family; or they would demand to know what price the family would put on being allowed to take their elderly mother with them. He ended his description by saying that the Kosovar Albanians only felt any regret about the NATO operations when bad weather prevented them from attacking the forces of ethnic cleansing.
That sustained campaign is having a real impact on the war machine. We know that President Milosevic's commanders in the field have increasing difficulty in maintaining contact with headquarters because of damage to their communication systems. We know that we have destroyed much of his fuel reserves, and that field officers have to watch the fuel gauge with increasing worry. We have also destroyed half his high-performance aircraft, and the rest have not dared to take to the skies for a long time. As a result, the biggest worry of his army commanders in the field is knowing that they do not have effective air defence, and are vulnerable if they move in the open.
As President Milosevic's war machine becomes weaker, NATO's forces in the theatre are becoming stronger. The number of attack aircraft available for the campaign has doubled since it started, and continues to grow. Time is against President Milosevic. He cannot replace the equipment that he loses, he cannot now refine fuel for his vehicles, and we know that his attempt to call up reservists for the fight in Kosovo has been ignored by more than half those whom he has summoned. Time is our ally. We must have the resolve to take the time, and the measures, that are necessary if we are to complete the task to which we have set our hand.
Over the past four days I have spoken to scores of people in Inverclyde and elsewhere in Renfrewshire, including the mother of a young lad who is serving with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. It would appear from those conversations that the Government have the overwhelming support of people in my constituency and the adjoining one; but again and again I was asked, "How long will the bombing continue?" Is it not likely to last for a considerable time?
My hon. Friend underlines what we all know to be true: that support for intervention has not weakened but grown over the period of the intervention as people have been confronted with the horror that is now taking place in Kosovo. Having met all the NATO foreign ministers, I can tell the House that that experience is repeated throughout the NATO countries, for exactly the same reason.
I cannot give the House a date by which the bombing will be over. I would welcome the opportunity to do so, but to do so would be dishonest. Moreover, it would be to miss the main point, which, as I have said, is that we must secure our objectives. When the bombing stops will be determined by when we secure the critical objective of being able to return the people of Kosovo under our protection. President Milosevic, however, could stop the bombing today if he called a ceasefire, withdrew his troops and allowed the Kosovars to return under the international protection that is now demanded by every international body.
I will give way when I have made some progress with my speech.
We have tried hard to avoid civilian casualties, but it simply is not possible to conduct a military campaign of the intensity that is needed while at the same time guaranteeing that no civilians will be killed. To pretend otherwise would be dishonest. NATO forces have worked around the clock trying to save the lives of refugees by providing them with shelter and food. We are therefore deeply concerned if any refugees have perished as a result of NATO action, and if there has been a misjudgment, we deeply regret it. However, I will not accept criticism of NATO's action from the very Government in Belgrade who have brutally and deliberately murdered thousands of Kosovars.
The tragedy poses questions not just for NATO, but for President Milosevic. Who was it who made those refugees homeless? What was the terror that made them flee their homes and country? Having burned those homes and forced their occupants to flee the country, it is breathtaking cynicism on the part of President Milosevic to manipulate their deaths as propaganda for his cause.
The whole House will be aware of the tragic consequences that follow when missiles fail to hit the intended target. Has any assessment been made of the likely consequences if one of the missiles should miss the target and hit the nuclear power plant at Vinca, near Belgrade? Has any assessment been made of the environmental and ecological damage resulting from the bombing of oil and chemical plants?
Of course, we are aware of where the nuclear plant is. Of course, we will take every possible measure, we have succeeded in avoiding it and we will certainly take care that it is nowhere near any missiles. I understand the concerns about the effect on the environment from the petrochemical plant, but if we are to be resolute, and if we are serious about halting the war machine, the best way in which we can hurt and inhibit it is to ensure that it is denied the fuel for tanks and heavy artillery to move around in Kosovo. While I fully understand my hon. Friend's long and honourable concern for the environment, what is happening on the ground in Kosovo to the environment of the Kosovo population dwarfs anything that NATO has done to the environment anywhere in Yugoslavia.
Our objectives are clear: a ceasefire and the withdrawal from Kosovo of Milosevic's army, special police and paramilitary thugs, without which any ceasefire will now not be credible; the return of all refugees and unconditional access for humanitarian relief; and acceptance of the international military force, without which no refugee will have the confidence to return in security, and without which few humanitarian agencies will enter Kosovo.
When the Heads of Government of the European Union met at the end of last week, their text concluded that there could be no compromise on those objectives. Any compromise would be a betrayal of the refugees and would leave them a dispossessed people without a home, without a state and without hope. Any compromise would be a reward for President Milosevic's brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing.
The Foreign Secretary says that every effort will be needed and that the campaign of bombing will continue. Will he confirm that page 23 of last year's strategic defence review sets out clearly the fact that our existing commitments in places such as Northern Ireland, and an air, sea and land force campaign such as the one that is now needed in the Balkans, could be sustained for only six months? If the campaign needs to continue beyond six months, will what has been printed in the strategic defence review be seriously revised upwards, so that there is no question that, if the six months were up and the campaign needed to be sustained, there would be no further jeopardy to our armed forces?
I assure the House that our defence staff are confident that we can sustain our present campaign. Indeed our plans for the deployment of a ground force within Kosovo do include the assumption that we will be able to wind down our presence in Kosovo after six months because, after that period, it is anticipated that the rapid reaction headquarters will be able to leave Kosovo.
I say to the hon. Lady and to any other Opposition Member who is thinking of getting up on the same point that criticising us over whether we have the resources sits ill with the fact that the previous Government cut the defence budget by a third and cut the number of personnel by a third. It is no good complaining now that there are insufficient resources to do the task that the House wishes the Army to do.
May I continue?
I have heard it argued by hon. Members on both sides of the House that the problem should have been resolved by dialogue and not by military action. I can only say to them that every opportunity was given for dialogue to work. At Rambouillet and then again at Paris we put six weeks into negotiation to create a democratic, self-governing Kosovo within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The Kosovar Albanians signed up to the peace accords in full. The accords fell short of their demand for independence and required the Kosovo Liberation Army to disarm. Nevertheless, they had the courage to make a compromise to reach peace.
The talks broke down solely because of the refusal of Belgrade to negotiate in good faith towards an agreement. No one surveying the ruthless brutality that they have practised since then in Kosovo can now believe that they were ever serious about reaching agreement.
Will the Foreign Secretary explain why between the end of the Rambouillet talks and the start of military action no effort was made by the British and United States Governments to take the issue to the United Nations Security Council and ask the Secretary-General to undertake a diplomatic mission, or to gain its authority before any action was taken?
Britain has sponsored three resolutions at the United Nations on the Kosovo crisis. The last of those was the resolution that endorsed the October package to which President Milosevic signed up. That October package endorsed commitment to a ceasefire in Kosovo and the withdrawal of his tanks, heavy artillery and most of his troops from Kosovo. Every point of that resolution has now been comprehensively broken by President Milosevic. It is Belgrade, not Britain, that is challenging the authority of the United Nations.
When the United Nations Security Council discussed our military action, it supported our objectives by 12 votes to three and supported the action that is being taken. We did not pass straight to military action after the collapse of the Paris talks. Richard Holbrooke went to Belgrade and sought a last-minute conclusion from President Milosevic. If we are now engaged in military action, it is because at every possible point in many opportunities President Milosevic refused to accept dialogue and demonstrated that the only thing that he recognised was the use of force.
At Rambouillet we envisaged the Serb army maintaining a presence in Kosovo. It is implausible that the refugees would now be willing to return while those who have persecuted them remain in occupation of Kosovo. For that reason, we now require a full withdrawal of the Serb army. It will also be necessary for the international community to accept for an interim period a more direct responsibility for Kosovo than was envisaged at Rambouillet. What makes that necessary is the sheer scale of the brutality directed from Belgrade against the Kosovar Albanians. While Milosevic remains in power in Belgrade, it is inconceivable that the Kosovars can accept Belgrade exercising any intervention in their internal affairs.
Until we have rebuilt democratic institutions in Kosovo, its administration will need to be placed in the hands of international bodies, including the UN, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union. The task of reconstruction both of the shattered villages and of a democratic society in Kosovo will take the combined efforts of all those organisations. It would be our preference that a mandate should be provided by a Security Council resolution setting up an international administration for Kosovo.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is outlining a long strategy. Why have not the Government felt it necessary at any stage to invite the House to endorse the policy that he describes? We are left as a sort of press conference, in which we listen to Ministers but have no opportunity to register our views in the Lobby.
My right hon. Friend understates the capacity of the House to debate the issue and his own capacity to question me on the issues, if he describes what we are engaged in as some kind of press conference. In the present Parliament, all the leaderships of the major parties support the action that the Government are taking. It is traditional in such circumstances for the House to debate the matter on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. This is the second debate that I have opened on this subject since the campaign began. The Prime Minister has made two full statements to the House, and in addition my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made an emergency statement one night at 10 o'clock, after a vote. At every successive stage since military action commenced—and at every stage of the peace talks that preceded that action—we have consulted the House and reported back to it. I do not believe that the House can reasonably complain that its interests have not been fully taken into account.
Order. Is it a point of order? The right hon. Gentleman cannot register a point with me, but must use a form to which I can respond and on which I can take action.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have been very courageous in defending the rights of the House and of dissent. However, I ask you to give consideration to the idea that Parliament must be unanimous if party leaders agree because, were that to be the case, the history of the House would be quite different.
I was also interested to observe that my right hon. Friend's observation drew particular cheers from Opposition Members.
It is right that the international community should take responsibility for the people of Kosovo because, overwhelmingly, the nations of the world share the same revulsion as our people at the atrocities that have been committed in Kosovo. Last week in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, there was a vote on a resolution condemning the atrocities, demanding that the war crimes tribunal be allowed access to Kosovo, and that Belgrade withdraw its troops and agree to a settlement based on the Rambouillet accords.
The resolution was drafted and proposed by the Muslim states in the UN Commission. We should remember that the countries of the Islamic world, and our own Muslim citizens in Britain, are watching to see whether Europe will respect the rights of a European Muslim community and act vigorously to restore their security.
That resolution was carried in Geneva with 44 nations voting for it and only one nation—Russia—voting against. It was a forceful measure of the balance of international opinion in support of our objectives.
I am sorry that Russia isolated itself on that occasion and on others when Kosovo has been debated. Russia played a full part alongside us at Rambouillet in drafting the peace accords and in trying to broker agreement to them. We want Russia to be a partner in securing a settlement that delivers on our objectives.
There is the same wish on the part of the Government of Russia. I spoke to the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, following his meeting in Oslo last week with Madeleine Albright. He confirmed that they had found a wide area of common ground. Indeed, Russia has only one substantive area of disagreement with the NATO objectives. Although Russia accepts that there must be an international presence in Kosovo at the end of the conflict, it is still not prepared to say that it must be a military one.
Frankly, I do not believe that it will be possible to persuade the refugees to return without a credible military presence. I hope that Russia will agree to take part in it and work alongside our troops, as Russian troops do at present in Bosnia. In the meantime we will continue close dialogue with the Government of Russia to see whether we can close the remaining gap between us.
If we can secure agreement with Russia, that would unblock the path to progress through the Security Council. Already, as I have told the House, 12 of the 15 members of the Security Council share our objectives and support our campaign.
The statement last week by the UN Secretary-General helpfully restates our objectives as the necessary basis of any political settlement. I share the view of Kofi Annan, who dismissed the claim that the international community has no business intervening because Yugoslavia is a sovereign state. As Kofi Annan firmly expressed it, the rights defended by the UN are the rights of people, and no Government should be able to take away those rights by force simply by claiming that it has the sovereign power to do so.
Yugoslavia is ringed by seven countries. Since the campaign began I have spoken to the Foreign Ministers of each of them. All their Governments are firm in the view that NATO is right to make a stand against President Milosevic, and they share our objectives.
A positive feature of the past month has been the growing co-operation among the other countries of the Balkans, and between them and western Europe. That development must not cease when the immediate crisis in Kosovo ends. NATO is examining how we can reinforce security for those countries by intensifying our co-operation through partnership for peace.
The European Union has proposed a stability pact with the other countries of the region. It proposes that we help to build a civic society and promote political reform through widening the programmes that we fund in the region, and that we boost these countries' economic and trade links with Europe by accelerating their agreements on association with us.
Serbia is ringed by countries which are all now deepening their links with modern Europe. All those countries enjoy the perspective of broadening political freedom and eventual economic progress.
If I understood the Foreign Secretary correctly, he said that the Government's policy is that the territory of Kosovo should be administered internationally for an indefinite period. Is that the Government's settled policy? Has it been agreed by all the allies taking part in the operation, and by the neighbouring states to which he referred? If there is to be international administration, is it to be by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, by the United Nations or by the European Union? If that has not been settled, how will progress be made?
I said that all those organisations must be involved. Frankly, it will take the resources of all those organisations to take on the task of reconstruction in Kosovo, including not only physical rebuilding but the creation of democratic institutions. The model for that is foreshadowed in the Rambouillet peace accords, which foresaw exactly such an operation, with the OSCE, the European Union and the United Nations working together to create a democratic, self-governing Kosovo; although in the wake of the past four weeks it will have to be a much more hands-on operation than we envisaged at Rambouillet.
That is the view of Her Majesty's Government, and it is a view on which we have close discussions with our major allies. From my conversations with the Ministers of Germany, Italy, France and the United States, to whom I speak every night, I believe that it is widely shared among our allies.
I was describing to the House how the countries of the region are developing their links with the European Union. The contrast with the fate of the Serbian people could not be clearer. In the 10 years in which President Milosevic has been in power, the average income of the people of Serbia has halved, and their freedoms have been extinguished with the successive closures of the independent media. Ultimately, the greatest threat to President Milosevic is that even he cannot hide for ever from his people the truth that he and his politics stand between them and the modern Europe.
We want the Serb people also to be able to join us in that modern Europe, but it is built on the principle of respect for the equal rights of all citizens, regardless of their ethnic identity, and on recognition that cultural diversity is not a weakness but a strength.
I said that I would not give way again.
We cannot embrace Serbia in that modern Europe so long as Belgrade pursues policies that are based on a doctrine of ethnic superiority that the rest of Europe rejected half a century ago.
At the end of this week, my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister and I will represent Britain at the NATO summit in Washington. That summit will commemorate the birth of NATO 50 years ago, in the aftermath of the second world war. At that time, the free nations of the world surveyed the horrors that they had discovered in occupied Europe and said, "Never again"; yet in the past weeks we have again borne witness to forced deportation by train, thousands of refugees starving in squalid huddles and pathetic masses shorn of their homes and their papers for no reason but their ethnic identity. Had we taken no action we would have been complicit in those evils.
NATO was born out of the defeat of fascism. Fifty years later, we cannot tolerate the rebirth of fascism in our continent. That is why our service men are in action over Kosovo and why the House must support that action until we have reversed the ethnic cleansing and enabled the people of Kosovo to return to their homes in safety.
When the House last met to debate the fate of Kosovo, our mood was sombre. In the two and a half weeks that have elapsed since, the mood both in the House and in the country has darkened. It is, of course, true that we all continue to be deeply moved by the intense images of suffering that fill our television screens and newspapers. Each day brings forth accounts of human misery and inhuman cruelty more vivid and violent than the day before.
The Opposition continue to support the men and women of our armed forces, to whose skill, courage and devotion to duty we owe so much. We recognise the efforts of those whose back-up work is so crucial, and, of course, the anxieties of the families of those engaged in front-line action. We pay tribute to them all, and to those military and civilian personnel who have done, and are doing, so much so selflessly and so heroically to help the refugees. For anyone who may have been tempted to think that mankind, at least in Europe, has put behind it the sort of atrocities that so defiled our continent 50 years ago, these events have been the most dire return to dreadful reality.
We continue to support the Government. We continue to believe that it was right to take action against the regime that has inflicted so much terror on those whom it regards as its own citizens. As I said in our last debate, now is not the time to go over the history of NATO's involvement and its nature, though there will come a time after the fighting has stopped when that task will need to be undertaken. However, there are questions which can and should be asked, and answered, now.
I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's opening statement of general support. In that context, will he totally dissociate himself from the remarks of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who called for the sacking of Sir Charles Guthrie?
The hon. Gentleman should know that there are different views in all quarters of this House. This House is not a rubber stamp. It is its duty to scrutinise the Government. Those whose views differ from those of the Government and Opposition Front-Bench teams are entitled to be heard with respect. I am making my views absolutely clear, and the hon. Gentleman should understand that those with different views are perfectly entitled to have their say. The existence of this conflict does not relieve the House of its duty to scrutinise the Government's actions and to seek clarity in the explanation of those actions: clarity about their objectives; about the methods that the Government seek to employ to achieve them; and about the progress, or lack of it, that is being made.
When the Prime Minister first came to the House, he said that the primary objective of NATO's actions was
to avert what would otherwise be a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo."—[Official Report, 23 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 161.]
Three weeks later it is clear—regrettably, most unhappily, but clear none the less—that that objective has not been achieved. Of course, it is true, as Ministers rightly tell us, that the responsibility for the humanitarian disaster that has occurred rests with Milosevic. Of course, it is not the case, with the exception of those ghastly accidents that are the inevitable companions of military action, that the responsibility is NATO's. Of course, it is also true that there were atrocities and a humanitarian disaster before the NATO bombing commenced, but no one could describe the events on the ground during the past three weeks as anything other than a humanitarian disaster.
Although I have no doubt that much damage has been done to Milosevic's military machine, and although I would be the last person to minimise the impact of the NATO campaign, we must nevertheless face facts, and one of those deeply unpalatable facts is that NATO's primary objective—to prevent a humanitarian disaster—has not been achieved. That must be the starting point for any honest examination as to how we should now proceed. There is nothing to be gained in confusing aspiration with achievement, or in mistaking what is desirable for what has been done.
My right hon. and learned Friend is right, because, although the moral culpability for the cleansing of Kosovo lies with Milosevic, is it not also true that, by withdrawing the monitors and commencing the bombing action, NATO gave Milosevic an opportunity and an excuse? Had the bombing not started, the probability is that we would not have seen the cleansing that has taken place; the culpability rests with Milosevic, but surely we also need to recognise the facts.
We shall never know quite to what extent Milosevic would have continued with the ethnic cleansing that he had undoubtedly already started before the NATO bombing commenced. As I said, that ethnic cleansing—those atrocities, that humanitarian disaster — had begun and was clearly under way before the NATO bombing commenced.
I am anxious that we should deal with that point, because a number of Members—not least those with constituencies such as mine where many refugees have arrived during the past eight to 10 years—also remember that, before the events in Kosovo began, there were 1 million refugees from that area. One of the reasons why we are having difficulty at present is that previously the ethnic cleansing happened slowly so it was easy to ignore it. Now it is happening fast and we cannot help but see it. However, ethnic cleansing happening slowly is just as bad as ethnic cleansing that happens fast.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point.
As I said, we must have clarity. First and foremost, we must be clear as to what NATO's objectives now are. On 23 March the Prime Minister said that, to avoid NATO action,
Milosevic must do what he promised to do last October—end the repression, withdraw his troops to barracks, get them down to the levels he agreed, and withdraw from Kosovo the tanks, heavy artillery and other weapons he brought into Kosovo early last year. He must agree to the proposals set out in the Rambouillet accords, including a NATO-led ground force.—[Official Report, 23 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 162-63.]
We must be clear as to the extent to which those remain NATO's objectives.
I welcome what the Foreign Secretary said this afternoon about the need for a total withdrawal of Serb forces. That differs from those original objectives, but, in my judgment, that difference is entirely justified. I welcome, too, what the right hon. Gentleman said about the status of Kosovo after the cessation of the fighting. However, he fell far short of answering the questions put to him by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). We need to know to what extent what the Foreign Secretary told us this afternoon about that post-fighting status of Kosovo has been agreed with the other 18 members of the NATO alliance and with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Union and the United Nations. My right hon. and learned Friend asked some reasonable questions and they deserve to be answered. We should be told, too, how what the Foreign Secretary told us this afternoon is to be squared with the arguments deployed by President Clinton yesterday in his article in The Sunday Times, in which he put the case against independence for Kosovo after the fighting is over.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making a most important point. Will he seek an answer from the Foreign Secretary to the fundamental question of whether there is not a real danger that, if we enable the Kosovar Albanians to return to their homes and then frustrate their political aspirations thereafter, we shall incur their long-term odium, which might perpetuate conflict in the region?
My hon. Friend's question is a valid one and is implied in the point that I have just made.
We need to know more about the nature of the force that would ultimately monitor and police the situation in Kosovo. The Prime Minister has said that any force would need to be NATO-led, but the NATO statement of 12 April said merely that Milosevic must accept the
stationing in Kosovo of an international military presence",
and similar words were used by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and by the Foreign Ministers of the European Union. Indeed, the French Defence Minister has said that it is possible
that a future peacekeeping force for Kosovo may not be under NATO's direct control.
That is a matter of the greatest importance. Does the British Government agree with the French Defence Minister's statement? Is it now the case, as the Prime Minister appeared to suggest yesterday, that the removal of Milosevic is now an explicit objective of NATO policy? There are also questions about how the objectives are to be achieved.
Following on from that last point, could that not be the kernel of a peace settlement, given that, at Rambouillet, the Serbs were prepared to accept autonomy, but not a NATO-led peacekeeping force? Does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that we should be prepared to compromise on that point and have a peacekeeping force that is, at least in part of Kosovo, led by neutral nations? Is that a point worth considering?
Things have moved on since Rambouillet and I share the view that the Government have expressed, that, for example, partition of Kosovo would not be a satisfactory outcome. The Prime Minister was absolutely unequivocal in the answer he gave in the House to that question only a few days ago, and I agree with his views on that point.
We need answers to questions about how the objectives which the Government have set themselves are to be achieved. The fact that there has been a substantial reinforcement of NATO's air strike capability must be taken as an indication that the original assessment of what was likely to happen was too optimistic. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will comment on that when he winds up the debate.
I also hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bring clarity to the crucial question of ground forces, where there is much scope for confusion. I suspect that there would be widespread support for the intervention of ground troops to keep a peace that had already been agreed, but both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have repeatedly ruled out the use of ground troops to fight their way in to impose a settlement. Yet, even in that respect, the reasoning is not as clear as it should be. It is one thing to reject that option, as the Prime Minister did, because of the scale of the force that would be needed and the very high risk of substantial casualties. However, it is quite another to suggest that the reason why ground troops are not being used is, in the words of the US Defence Secretary last week, that
There was not a consensus in the NATO alliance to do anything but an air campaign",
or, in the words of the Foreign Secretary yesterday, that
it would take months to assemble
the necessary number of ground troops, and we
don't have two or three months to wait.
Yesterday, the Secretary-General of NATO gave a fourth different justification when he said:
At this point we think the air campaign is enough. The military authorities who are leading the campaign think that it is enough. Therefore we are not going to change the policy now. But if the moment comes and it is necessary I am sure that the countries which belong to NATO will be ready to do it.
We must have clarity.
We must also be told more about the concept of intervention in what the Foreign Secretary calls a "permissive environment". That did not feature in the Government's original objectives. Are any preparations now under way to assemble a larger force? Would not such preparations need to be made now if the force were to be used any time this year? I hope that the Defence Secretary will tell us more about that tonight.
As to clarity, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman in favour of contemplating introducing ground troops? The port of Thessalonika has denied access, as has the port of Piraeus following the statements by the mayor of Athens on this subject; there is complete opposition from Macedonia; and the Hungarians, for their own reasons involving Hungarian minorities in Yugoslavia, are not willing to contemplate such a move. How will one get a ground army into Yugoslavia without crossing mountains that are 6,000 ft high using the incredibly useless infrastructure of Albania? How will that operation be achieved?
I do not underestimate the difficulties involved. I have said clearly that ground troops could be employed in a variety of different circumstances. I think it is simplistic of the hon. Gentleman to refer to that remark and then pose a series of questions about the deployment of troops in only one set of circumstances.
I hope that the Defence Secretary will tell us more this evening about how the Government—
I have taken many interventions, so I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me if I continue.
I hope that the Defence Secretary will tell us more about how the Government now view the role of the KLA. The United States Defence Secretary was reported as saying that, as a result of the bombing campaign, the military balance would shift
decisively in favour of the KLA.
He said that, over time, the KLA would be in a position to defeat Milosevic's army. Do the British Government share that view and do they seek to facilitate that development?
As to the length of the campaign, it is, alas, the case that the prediction made by the Defence Secretary on 25 March, when he said,
As the situation improves, we will look to reduce numbers."—[Official Report, 25 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 617],
has not been borne out by events. The United States Administration have accepted that the campaign will be very lengthy. Do the Government agree? I believe the British people are both realistic about the possible time scale of the campaign and resolute about the need to see it through. However, the Government should be open and honest about their expectations.
There has been some confusion about the diplomatic dimension of recent events. I hope that the Defence Secretary will tell us a little more about the German peace initiative. What consultation took place with other Governments before that initiative was announced? Was the Foreign Secretary consulted? He did not mention the initiative in his speech. What is the current status of that initiative? How do things stand with Russia? Does the Foreign Secretary plan to meet Mr. Chernomyrdin, who has been appointed Russia's peace envoy?
Above all, what more is planned to help the refugees and those countries that are at present receiving them? Are the Government satisfied with the current level of effort demonstrated by the international community? What can be done to reinforce that effort? What more can be done to help Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro? Last week, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister particularly about the continuing pressure on Macedonia and he was assured that we were doing all that we could. Since then, there has been a further influx of refugees across the border. The Macedonian Interior Minister has predicted:
In six months there will be a total collapse of the economy
a lot of side-effects for national security, law and order and society.
He accused other countries of doing far too little to shoulder their share of the burden. What has been done to respond to those concerns? After all, the Foreign Secretary acknowledged last week that the Government anticipated Milosevic's spring offensive and knew that it would be accompanied by ethnic cleansing and murder of the civilian population, so they had the foreknowledge
required to plan and prepare, in part at least, for the avalanche of human misery that we have seen in the past three weeks.
I shall not deal with the separate, specific details of any of the dreadful events that have so recently occurred, save to emphasise the importance of providing, as soon as possible, full and honest accounts of the incidents in which NATO has been involved. I understand that those accounts are now being given at a NATO press conference, and if that is the case, it is very welcome. Such tragedies are almost inevitable, but that does not make them any less tragic or ease the pain and suffering of any of the victims or their families. However, those events must not undermine the essential justice of NATO's cause and they must not be allowed to weaken its will.
We remain convinced of the justice of that cause. We remain of the view that NATO was right to intervene to try to prevent the horror that is taking place. We must continue to ensure that its action is based on clear, consistent objectives and will be judged against clear criteria. We must ensure that, having embarked on that action, we now see it through.
To have embarked on this intervention is a serious, solemn course of action, but intervention is always a question of choice. It would have been possible to say that these are matters with which we shall not concern ourselves.
In deciding whether we should intervene, we surely have an obligation to give serious consideration to what appear to be the relevant and compelling factors. I suggest that the first of those factors is the degree of wrongdoing with which we are seeking to deal. The second is the extent of our ability to take action. The third is the nature of our interest: is it moral, pragmatic or both? The fourth, which is, perhaps, as compelling as all the others, is the prospect of success. In analysing those factors, it is inevitable that we shall be engaged in value judgments.
In this case, when we ask ourselves what is the degree of wrongdoing, we are surely able to say that it is the most brutal and despicable ethnic cleansing. When we ask ourselves about our ability to take action, surely we can say that the most successful military alliance in history, which has annual defence expenditure of between $350 billion and $400 billion, has the capacity to take action. When we ask ourselves what is our interest, I say that we have both a moral and a pragmatic interest in preventing a flagrant abuse of humanitarian standards and inhibiting instability and preventing bloodshed on the very edge of Europe. What are the prospects of success? The objectives that we have set out can be attained, but it will not be easy and we should not pretend otherwise.
On an earlier occasion, when the Prime Minister made a statement to the House, I said that this was a bad business and might turn out to be a bloody one. I said also that those of us who have advocated the use of military force must live with the responsibility of the consequences and that, once the use of military force had begun, it would require political will to continue when, as there inevitably would be, there were setbacks. Those conclusions are as valid today as they were then.
Liberal Democrats have contended that an air campaign alone would not suffice and that military presence on the ground would be essential for the return of the refugees so that they would have the confidence and courage to return to the communities out of which they have been burned, looted and shelled. However, such a military force could not be achieved by agreement between Rambouillet and Paris, and is even less likely to be achieved by agreement now. NATO must therefore be willing to impose its will.
That is why I believe that it was wrong for NATO to rule out the option of ground forces in such an apparently unequivocal way. That allowed the Milosevic regime to exclude from its calculations an option which it would at least have found disconcerting and potentially painful—which might well have made an effective contribution to deterrence. Milosevic should have been left in confusion and doubt about NATO's intentions.
It may not have been the stated intention at the beginning of this conflict, but there are certainly noises now about using ground troops, so it must obviously be a consideration with the Serbs. If the whole of Kosovo were occupied by ground forces and the Serbs continued nevertheless to resist, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman contemplate the full-scale occupation of Yugoslavia, including Belgrade, by NATO forces, with the likely guerrilla warfare lasting not months but perhaps years?
The hon. Gentleman intervened on me on the previous occasion on which we debated this topic, and I was less than gracious in my response. I wrote to him privately afterwards to apologise, and I am happy to take the opportunity to apologise publicly for the fact that I was less than gracious in dealing with his intervention. I shall deal with the intervention that he has just made on the merits on which he made it. I do not believe that anyone here would contemplate the occupation of Belgrade, but the threat and, indeed, perhaps the use, of ground forces will be an essential component in achieving any settlement. I cannot conceive of circumstances in which the threat of use or, indeed, the actual use will not be necessary.
Public opinion has been much more robust on this topic than Governments have estimated. In seeing the terrible scenes that flash across our television screens, which occur with such frequency that we have become almost dulled to their effect, the public understand that, without credible military protection, people who are driven out of their homes will have neither the confidence nor the courage to return.
I wish that it were possible to say that that presence would be obtained by consent, but I do not believe that it will. Whether troops are deployed will of course depend on the strength of the opposition—the success of the air campaign—and the political cohesion of NATO. Those of us who advocate this as a course of action would be very well advised to remember that there came a point in the Gulf war at which the issue before us was whether there should be an assault on Baghdad. That became regarded as impossible to mount because the political cohesion of the international alliance, which had been created in order to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, would not have survived.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right that ground troops will be needed—that view is widely shared, and the Americans are now dropping leaflets saying, "We will attack you from land, sea and air", so the process has begun—does he at least share my view that something as grave as that should be put specifically to a vote in the House of Commons? Does he also share my view that to cite his party leader as a supporter of the policy is not a substitute for the House reaching a judgment on such a grave matter?
It may come as something of a surprise to the right hon. Gentleman, but I have some considerable sympathy with his point of view—not only in relation to my party leader, let me hasten to say. The right hon. Gentleman makes a sound point. If we are to ask our young men, and increasingly our young women, to risk their lives in the furtherance of political objectives, surely they ought to know that they have the endorsement of the House of Commons.
On a substantive motion, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman says.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has, of course, a long history of endeavouring to reform the prerogative power, and I have some sympathy with that point of view. It seems to me that, at a time when we are engaged in remarkable constitutional reforms in relation to Scotland and Wales, the adoption of the European convention on human rights into our domestic law and perhaps—if we are fortunate—in due course, freedom of information, there is time for a proper examination of that issue. Although the right hon. Gentleman and I disagree as violently as it is possible to disagree on the merits of this case, I believe that he should have the right to record his vote in relation to that matter on a substantive motion in the House.
I am not subject to the 10-minutes rule, but I know that very many hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate so, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall make progress.
We should not underestimate the fragility of public opinion—even although I believe that it has been more robust than Governments have estimated—and we have a duty to explain that, if we were to embark upon a ground campaign, it would not be for a matter of a few weeks, and it would carry a substantial potential for casualties.
We have another duty, and that is to be frank. If NATO makes mistakes, it should say so and publish all the evidence, including the video evidence. No matter which side of the argument one takes in these matters, none of us can have been entirely satisfied with the way in which NATO dealt with the events of last week. As this debate began, a press conference was being held at which more information was being put into the public domain. I doubt whether NATO will ever be blamed for delay, but it would certainly be blamed for disinformation, even if that arose innocently. NATO's values must demonstrably be different from those of the Milosevic regime.
On another point, I do not believe that the rubbishing of correspondents by unattributable briefing serves the cause. Mr. John Simpson is not a candidate for sainthood, but it seems to me to betray a conspicuous lack of confidence in the justice of the cause to be so ultra-sensitive to his broadcasts from Belgrade. I firmly believe that we should let people make their own judgments. The Prime Minister rightly says that this is an issue about values. One of those values is freedom of expression. How shall we justify our determination to bring that freedom of information to Kosovo when we seem to fight shy of it ourselves?
It is possible to discern the pattern of the air campaign. With the tragic exceptions that have been mentioned, it has been largely successful in the avoidance of civilian casualties. It is clear that the pattern is to block the exits from Kosovo for the forces of the Milosevic regime. The purpose of the destruction of bridges and fuel dumps is obviously to cut lines of supply and the line of retreat. It will be a long way back to Belgrade for the paramilitary police and soldiers who have been such enthusiasts for ethnic cleansing; a long way back for those who have used rape to terrorise and humiliate women of the Albanian community; a long way back for those who may have done in Kosovo what they most assuredly did in Srebrenica. The Milosevic regime, it is clear, is ready to sacrifice its own foot soldiers for its survival.
I ask myself constantly, "Are we right to be there at all?" We are there out of painful necessity. We are there for values, not for money's-worth or resources—there are no natural resources to be plundered there. But we should ask ourselves that question constantly, because the course of action upon which we have embarked is a serious and solemn one; and, as has been said, we should be planning for what happens when the peace is won.
We should be planning for the strenuous effort that will be required to assist the long-term reconstruction, the economic revival and the political integration of the states of the former Yugoslavia into the mainstream of Europe, including Serbia and the Serbians, under a Government other than that of Mr. Milosevic. The Serbians, too, must be absorbed back into the mainstream of Europe. Rape, destruction, looting and brutality have become commonplace in Kosovo. The people of Kosovo are entitled to expect better and we should now be preparing to give them better.
I have never been comfortable with the expression "a just war". I have never been convinced that we do justice by waging war, but, rather, that sometimes it is necessary to wage war to allow the opportunity for justice. This is such an occasion. However, we delude ourselves if we think that military action can be conceived and implemented immaculately. With no irony, I say that military action is always a blunt weapon. The expression "a surgical strike" contains its own inherent contradiction. Sometimes, however, the blunt weapon is the last painful resort when diplomacy has failed and the defiance of civilised values is unabated. This is such an occasion.
When military force is contemplated or used, Governments cannot expect—nor are they entitled to expect—a blank cheque, not even from their own supporters. However, when the cause is a humanitarian one and when all other remedies have been tried and have failed, Governments such as the present Government are entitled to the support of the House.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that there is now a 10-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches until the end of the debate.
Before the House of Commons commits troops in a democracy, it has a special responsibility to think about not only the terms of engagement, but why it is prepared to support such a move. Once that adventure has started, it is important that the House should give total support to those of our citizens who are involved. It is therefore, on occasions, extremely difficult for those of us who feel some unease about the way in which the situation is developing to express our fears without appearing to be undermining the efforts of those of our forces who are progressing this movement or of the Government whom we support. None the less, I feel that it would be wrong simply to ignore many of the implications of what is happening.
As a 20-year-old, I went with my parents to stay with Marshal Tito on the island of Brioni. It was soon after the break from Russia and Yugoslavia was expecting an invasion of the Russians. Tito was therefore extremely clear and forceful in his views about the needs of his nation and the difficulty of keeping the various nationalities and religions together. He had with him a couple of his generals—both of them Serbs—who explained to me how they had armed their troops during the war.
The generals said that they had no weapons and that the Germans had tanks. They explained that the Germans were precise and that, when they arrived on mountain roads, the Serbs laid a series of dinner plates in front of them. As the Germans could not believe that they were dinner plates, they opened the tops of their tanks and got out to inspect what was on the road. At that point, they were killed, and the Serbs then had tanks. It was a lesson that I took on board and understood.
At the beginning of this exercise, many of us feared that the Serbs' commitment and the way in which they normally fight for those things that are essential to them were perhaps underestimated. However, it is important now, given the appalling savagery that has been visited on Kosovo, for us to discuss the implications openly.
I believe strongly that the air attacks must go on and must be allowed to continue. I also believe that the House of Commons has a right to know what will happen if that campaign does not continue and is not successfully concluded. Unlike some other Members of Parliament, I will certainly find it difficult to support the commitment of ground troops if they not only have to fight their way into a province whose geography makes that kind of war difficult, but have to fight against tough, committed opponents. The House of Commons—which will have the responsibility of deciding not only the cost of such a war, but the cost in human lives—must think carefully before it allows that to go ahead.
I want to register my view briefly. I believe that, in the defence of democracy, we have a right to ensure that those who no longer maintain the standards of democracy are opposed in every way possible. However, I also believe
that, so far, we have not clearly quantified or clarified what we are asked to do. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary says that we are not at war. If we are not at war, I have some doubts about some of the things that are happening.
Nevertheless, I believe that the intentions of Her Majesty's Government are good and honourable. I would, however, say one thing to them: those of us who commit other women's sons to fight on our behalf must be very clear that we are not doing so in the wrong way, in the wrong terms and at the wrong time. I hope that we will be given the opportunity, if any such thing is even contemplated, to express the views of many of the people of the United Kingdom. Knowing the savagery and viciousness with which politics is frequently progressed in the Balkan states, people nevertheless want to know that we are not committing our people to a frightening long-term adventure that may not, in the final analysis, be in their interests.
In my judgment, there is no going back now, and there will be a substantial force of troops on the ground in Kosovo within a few weeks.
I do not think that there is any particular need for the House to have a collective nervous breakdown about the fact that there will be troops on the ground; what matters are the circumstances under which those troops are to be deployed. Whether the situation is benign or malign, it will—under whatever circumstances one can possibly foretell —certainly not be permissive. Therefore, British troops will be called on again to discharge a very hazardous operation.
As the Foreign Secretary said, British troops in Macedonia have done a remarkable job in building shelter for and looking after nearly 30,000 refugees. That extraordinary achievement on their part showed the humanity and sympathy for which the British fighting soldier is rightly highly regarded; indeed, it is one of the few bright beacons in this ghastly mess.
The House will wish to congratulate British and allied pilots, who have pressed home their attacks with great determination and skill in difficult conditions. Indeed, it has done so. May I, across the House, congratulate the Secretary of State for Defence and others on the way in which they have effectively used the Ministry of Defence press conferences, to try to get over the information about exactly what is happening? That has paid great dividends —the support for the campaign and these activities is running at a high level in this country, which is very important—and I hope that that good innovation will continue to be used.
I shall make just a few points in the brief time that I have and start by looking back. This whole event has come about because of what is, I am afraid, a tragic failure of international diplomacy. There is no doubt that the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues did their very best to prevent what was happening, but the fact that the Russians were not engaged earlier in a far greater way is a great strain. After all, they are the only people who could have delivered the Serbs.
Once the great rush of these events has passed, we need to consider carefully how to engage the Russians in a more meaningful way in the many areas of the world in which they have a vital role to play, for example, in the middle east. However, as the Foreign Secretary said, it is important that the political side is seen to march with the same vigour as the military side, and that as much is done to bring about a political conclusion as to bring about a military one.
Secondly, NATO will have learned what many people told it: that there was not the slightest possibility of Milosevic and the Serbs crumbling under sustained bombing. Indeed, the first 10 days of a pretty limited campaign have unleashed a wave of Serbian nationalism which will be extremely difficult to deal with. The beginning of the air campaign was conducted, for a number of reasons, at far too slow a tempo. Three weeks on, the central fact remains, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said, that the objective of the air campaign has not been achieved. Although much damage has been done to President Milosevic's military machine and much of his military infrastructure has been severely degraded, we have not yet managed to resolve the continuing humanitarian disaster by the use of air power.
Thirdly, it is clear that British forces are now under considerable pressure. The strategic defence review will have to be revisited, especially decisions taken about the reserve forces. I have just come back from America, where the Defence Secretary and I witnessed the launch of USS Winston Churchill. While I was there, all the main news stories in all the newspapers made it clear that President Clinton was about to sign an order calling up 30,000 reserves in order to be able to continue prosecuting this campaign. We shall be woefully short of people such as sappers, in particular, who will have to play a major role in the reconstruction of Kosovo, when that day eventually arrives. The whole House will be aware of the enormously distinguished role that the engineers played in Bosnia, and we shall be very short of people to do that work.
Fourthly, modern political leaders of a different generation pose a grave danger, for entirely understandable reasons—two biological reasons: they were born too late to experience world war two and have grown up mesmerised by technology—so impressed are they by their ability to kill from afar with almost no risk of retaliation against those firing the weapons. President Clinton has launched cruise missiles at Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and Serbia in the past six months alone. The lesson to be learned is that limited actions get limited results.
May I ask the Defence Secretary what consideration has been given to the use of air drops of supplies to refugees still in Kosovo? Have the Government considered with their allies the establishment of safe havens, which were used to great effect in Iraq in 1991? After all, we have the punitive air power to support such an initiative. I should be grateful if the Defence Secretary would say what ideas have been taken into account in that regard.
Have the Government considered the use of airborne forces linked with commando forces? It is clear that there will have to be a major commitment of ground forces. That is the only way for NATO to impose its will.
I welcome the support given by Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, which reciprocates the support given by the then Opposition to the then Government on the Gulf and the Falklands. It is important that a consensus be sustained. I would welcome the opportunity of going into the Division Lobby to show how large the support is for the Government and Opposition line. Perhaps, at some stage, we will be given the opportunity to allow those who dissent to show how many they are. I await a speech from the Scottish National party on the matter. However, from the looks of it, I suspect that its members have gone back to their constituencies, preparing for opposition.
It is critical that the Government sustain the consensus. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have made statements in the House, and there have been debates and briefings to both the Select Committee on Defence and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs; there was a joint presentation today to the Committees. Any criticism that the Government have ducked presenting their case or eliciting the views of the House is unfair.
Lessons must be learned, although not by the Government. I recall the Defence Committee's undertaking an inquiry into the handling of the media during the Falklands war. The Government and the previous Government learned the lessons, but I suspect that the lessons have yet to be learned by NATO. A Victorian general's comment about the "newly invented curse" to armies—media interest—has a modern ring to it. NATO's problems—despite the sterling endeavours of civilian and military briefers, particularly Jamie Shea—show that it needs to learn some of the lessons that had to be learned by the Ministry of Defence on the presentation of its case.
Clearly, a war is being fought in the air and on the airwaves. In our 1983 report, the Defence Committee said:
The Government were generally successful in the information war but not all adversaries will be overcome so convincingly.
That was prophetic. NATO has yet to learn the lesson that adequate staffing levels are required—not just to present information, but to indulge in the inevitable cause of information warfare. Are there the proper connections between the military and the civilians?
Last week was called a black week for NATO—not because we lost any aircraft or personnel, but because of the danger that we were not winning the information war. I am referring to the disaster of the civilians who were killed.
In the conclusion to our report of almost 20 years ago, the Defence Committee said:
There can be sound military reasons for withholding the whole truth from the public domain, for using the media to put out `misinformation', and for believing that particular rumours will redound to one's own side's advantage. These tactics, however, present risks to future credibility and should be used only after serious consideration.
NATO should not replace existing personnel at its information office, but supplement them with additional staff and ensure that the military and the civilians are singing, more or less, from the same song sheet.
Three weeks ago, the legitimacy of NATO's action was endorsed by the House. My enthusiasm and support for that legitimacy have been undiminished, despite criticisms of errors of judgment, an inability to prophesy, a lack of objectives and purpose and problems in executing decisions. There have been crises, but I am yet to be aware of any war where mistakes are not made. I do not wish to create any dissent, but those of us who sat through debates on the Falklands war can recall many errors; yet we won in the end, and public opinion rallied behind the Government. Ships, aircraft and lives were lost, and mistakes were made, but we must regard that as an inevitable consequence of war. When people vent their spleen on NATO or on Governments in the alliance, they must exercise a degree of realism in regard to the conduct of modern warfare. Warfare is not a football match broadcast on Sky Television, in the aftermath of which dissection and analysis are possible. It is not amenable to such analysis.
I believe that the House will continue to support NATO's policies, and will realise that, although Milosevic has played his cards with some skill and although we may have failed to appreciate his resolve, his fatal mistake is to underestimate our resolve. It is vital that we pursue our objectives with more rigour than we may have done hitherto.
When I was in the United States, it was said in some newspapers—unfairly, in my view—that this was a war prosecuted by the anti-Vietnam war generation who thought that no casualties should result and that people should feel guilty about killing even their opponents. Clearly, those who want to win a war must play tough. If the lesson of last week's public relations disaster is that risks should not be taken, I fear that we shall be bombing indefinitely—bombing empty woods, and dropping bombs in the middle of the Danube. If we want to be successful militarily, some difficult decisions will have to be made. Indeed, I suspect that they have already been made, and will be implemented.
There has been some debate about costs. It is perfectly legitimate to ask the Ministry of Defence what the costs are. The Secretary of State has said that, as of April, the cost
is some £17 million; this does not include the costs of replenishing stock of ordnance expended."—[Official Report,15 April 1999; Vol. 329, c. 324.]
Many, although not all, who have questioned the costs oppose the concept. Let us not use a cash register to work out the cost of every gallon of fuel used or every shell fired. The morality of the cause is such that we should not apply accountants' principles four weeks into the conflict. The time will come when we can engage in more detailed analysis. On Wednesday, the Defence Committee will be asking the senior finance officer about the methodology used in the calculations.
In fact, such is the justice of the cause that we are pursuing that it would have made no difference if the Secretary of State had given the figure as £170 million, £1,000,700,000, or even more. Let us not use the techniques of the accountant to undermine that cause. Should we be saying that our cause is just up to the point of £15 million, but should not be pursued beyond that?
Last week, the Defence Committee produced an excellent report on the Washington summit. There was a danger that the Kosovo issue would divert Heads of Government and those on the sidelines from the many things that needed to be done, but, fortuitously, the summit was well timed. I believe that those who attended it will support the decisions that have been made, and hope that NATO will emerge stronger. Let us make no mistake: if NATO cannot succeed in its objectives, one wonders whether it will have a 51st anniversary. One wonders whether prospective members will wish not to be associated with an organisation that cannot defeat the warlordism in the Balkans. I only hope that the bombing strategy is successful. I believe—
I must start by saying that it is my opinion that this war is clumsy, wasteful and shambolic. I accept that the intentions of many of those who have signed up to it are honourable, but I can see neither clearly defined objectives nor any measurable progress in attaining them. Our Prime Minister appears to be making things up as he goes along.
It is indisputable that the situation of all civilians living in Yugoslavia, be they Albanian Kosovars or the inhabitants of Belgrade, has greatly worsened since the NATO operation started. I recognise that to state that leaves one open immediately to two charges. The first is that of wilfully condoning, or appeasing—as the Secretary of State for International Development said in answer to a question from me last week—the cruel and barbaric atrocities that have been perpetrated in parts of Yugoslavia. The second is that of wilfully, by implication, undermining the morale of our armed forces.
The first of those charges is, of course, absurd. General accusations that are neither justified nor applicable are no way to address the complexities, the centuries-old feuds and vendettas of Balkan tribesmen. As for the second, it is certainly an uncomfortable charge to lay at the door of any Conservative Member—not least a former Minister at the Ministry of Defence—that he has undermined the morale and effectiveness of our fighting men.
Personally, I hold the Secretary of State—I am sorry to see him leaving the Chamber; I hope that it is not in protest to what I am saying—in high regard. At every stage of his occupancy of this key post, he has acquitted himself with both firmness and decorum. During the crisis, he has always been listened to with attention.
I should remind the House that, unlike some of the players in this drama, I have never been a member of CND. Nor am I a draft-dodger. When the second world war was still on, I enlisted on the earliest day that it was physically possible—on my 17th birthday. Two of my sons, one of whom was decorated with the Gulf medal, have served in the Army. That gives me a strong entitlement to say that British service men are not recruited to kill non-combatants. Were they ever to do so, it is no more than our electorate would expect for us in this place to protest. Let me say that, although the camouflage of the NATO flag is used to divest and to spread responsibility for what has happened in recent days, I am entirely satisfied that the events are in no way attributable to the Royal Air Force.
The United States air force is another case altogether. Over many years, its record has been abominable, whether we are talking about Iranian air liners, British soldiers in personnel carriers, bridges, trains, factories or, apparently, refugee convoys in Yugoslavia. That air force is the worst instrument, the House might think, to let loose in a conflict where the distinction between combatant and non-combatant is often variable and elusive.
It will not be lost on the House that it is an order from the Pentagon that has prevented the somewhat muddled and inchoate NATO press office from showing the video of the attack on the refugee convoy. My heart sank when I heard that a contingent from the No. 10 press office was being sent to Brussels to help NATO to put a spin on things. One does not spin details of accident and bloodshed.
Ministers have told us that the war is about NATO's credibility. Few things are more likely to reduce its credibility—what is left of it—than sending the head of the No. 10 press office, whose attempts to bully the senior diplomatic editor of the BBC have done much damage to the cause of which he is an advocate, to process NATO communiques. Mr. Campbell would be better advised to stick to coaching the Prime Minister on how to respond. At present, that response consists simply of waving his hands about and repeating the name "Milosevic" at every possible opportunity. That is not like saying "boom and bust" all the time: it is a refusal to address the complexities or the alternatives, or even the cost of the operation and any notion of its equivalence in terms of humanitarian aid. That is a kind of dumbing down and is not worthy of the high office that he holds. I do not believe that his predecessors, Mr. Harold Wilson or Mr. James Callaghan—still less Mr.Attlee —would have ever responded in that unthinking and soundbite style.
The House should consider the interaction of national and military complexities and susceptibilities. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was howled down for reminding the House of the criminal element, terrorist conduct and many undesirable aspects of the KLA, but that has been confirmed by many, including in a long article in The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Jeremy Bowen, the BBC correspondent, was stopped by members of the KLA and all his money and equipment was stolen. The KLA are exactly the sort of people British service men should never fight alongside. It has been suggested that we should undertake to arm the KLA. Labour Members may recall the Contras, the Sandinistas and other groups who were armed by the CIA. That is the company that we will be in if we arm the KLA.
If I give way, is it taken out of my time? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] In that case, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I will proceed. I wish to make two points that I hope will be answered when the Minister winds up. First, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that our post in Belgrade told him what the consequences of a NATO bombing attack were likely to be and that that was also reported to the Prime Minister's office? [HON. MEMBERS: "And the monitors."] My hon. Friends remind me to include the monitors and their reports in that question.
Secondly—this point should be answered by a Minister from the Ministry of Defence—there are significant gaps in the military information that should be disclosed. What were the separate recommendations of the Chief of the Defence Staff and against what remit were those made? What principles direct NATO targeting? Is it subject to a ground or an airborne warning and communication system controller, as in the Gulf war, or is it on the much more perilous basis of targets of opportunity? Is it true, as reported in some of the newspapers that the RAF warned the US air force against attacking the refugee convoy and that in the past 24 hours a senior officer of the RAF Strike Command has resigned? Perhaps that could be confirmed this evening. Why is there so little information about the results, which must be known to the Yugoslays, being disclosed to the public in the NATO countries? I put those points not from any position of prejudice concerning the atrocities that different elements in Yugoslavia perpetrate upon each other or from any lack of absolute confidence in our armed forces—although I could wish that they were being deployed in a more rewarding role—but because those are the sort of questions that a Back-Bench Member of Parliament is entitled, and should consider himself or herself obliged, to raise at a time like this.
If, two months ago, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had asked me to recommend a way to bolster support for Milosevic inside Yugoslavia, I think that I would have said, "Have you tried bombing Belgrade?" If, as a result, my right hon. Friend were to come to me and say, "Thanks very much, it worked. What would you recommend now?", my response would be that he might consider putting in ground troops.
I believe, however, that the use of ground troops in Yugoslavia would not be confined to Kosovo. The Serbs would continue to fight, and ground troops would have to be deployed in Serbia too. Despite what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, the use of ground troops could lead to the occupation of Belgrade and other cities.
Of course, the deployment of ground troops might lead to the end of Milosevic. No hon. Member wants a person who involves himself in the brutal ethnic cleansing of Albanians to remain in power any longer than necessary. But we must not kid ourselves that there is a democratic alternative, as we know it, in Yugoslavia. In fact, Milosevic himself does not even have a majority in the Serbian Parliament. He depends on Vuk Draskovic, one of the deputy Prime Ministers, who the previous Tory Government believed to be such a rival to Milosevic that they invited him to London, at British taxpayers' expense, to do some sort of deal.
Yugoslavia's other deputy Prime Minister is Vojislav Seselj, whom I mentioned in a speech in October 1991. No one knew then who he was, and Hansard sent me a note asking how to spell his name. I knew who he was: he was the leader of the Radical party and, to be frank, an out-and-out fascist.
None of us has any time for the ethnic cleansing that has taken place, but the bombing is creating a spirit among the Serb population akin to that which we knew in the blitz. Unlike so many of the Ministers making decisions in this matter who have never heard a bomb drop in anger, I know what the British people felt during the battle of Britain and the blitz bombings of London and, especially, Liverpool. We concentrated our support on the figure of our leader, Winston Churchill. I come from a solid Labour family. Every night, when Churchill spoke on the radio, my father would say, "Hush. We must now listen to what Mr. Churchill has to say."
As the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) rightly said, we must ask whether the situation is better than it was before 24 March, when the air raids began. The answer is, patently, no. Of course the situation is not better: it is worse. When a policy is designed, and before it is implemented, the question should always be, "Will this course of action make things better or worse for people?" The air raids have made it worse, and the use of ground troops will make it worse still.
We hear a lot of stories about mass graves. All those guilty of murdering people and putting their bodies in mass graves must be brought to account. I have a specific question for the Government, the answer to which is always refused. If we are against ethnic cleansing, as I am, should we not be against all ethnic cleansing? We are, rightly, going to attack Milosevic over what is happening in Kosovo, but what about Franjo Tudjman in Croatia, where 280,000 Serbs have been driven brutally out of Krajina? Not a finger has been raised by the NATO powers about that.
I would love to, but I do not think that I would get injury time.
We must also be careful about the propaganda from our own side. I remember, at the time of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, that the New York firm of Hill and Dowson put out a story that Iraqi soldiers were throwing babies out of incubators. We now know that the story was absolutely incorrect: it never happened. My mother told me about a rumour in the first world war that the Germans put Belgian babies on their bayonets.
Let us be very careful and not indulge in propaganda that is obviously nonsense. To tell the people of Pristina that they bombed themselves—that it was not the RAF or the Americans—is like telling the people of Coventry that they were bombed not by the Luftwaffe but by the RAF.
For God's sake let us reconvene the conference and involve Russia, because Russia holds the key and must not be ignored. The parliamentary elections in December could be a disaster for the west if we push Russia to one side. Let us also bring in Croatia. Let Franjo Tudjman, as well as Milosevic, answer for his crimes.
I hope that the Government will begin to listen and will not be taken in by opinion polls. If a disastrous ground war is conducted the opinion polls will not be so easy on the Government as they are now.
The terrible atrocities in Kosovo can be explained, but in no way excused, by the bloodstained history of the region, stretching back over centuries. The answer that the Secretary of State for Defence has twice given me in the House, that something must be done and that we cannot do nothing, is not satisfactory. Foreign policy and the making of war must be judged by results and not by intentions, however admirable those might be.
It has been obvious from the start that the Government's plans have not been thought through. They have certainly not saved the Kosovo Albanians. In terms of achieving its strategic and political objectives, this Balkan air war is likely to go down in history as the most incompetent operation in which Britain has been involved since the Crimea, making the planners of Gallipoli and Suez look like professionals.
One recalls Disraeli's comment on a similar Balkan situation in 1876. He said:
Mr. Gladstone and his friends will avenge the Bulgarian atrocities by the butchery of the world.
Without wiser statesmanship, that is where we may be headed.
The French, fortunately, are keeping in close touch with the Russians. It would be folly to disregard President Yeltsin's warning not to push Russia too far. He is a moderate in this context. One of the consequences of the present policy will be to reverse the move away from the cold war, with incalculable consequences that may in time far outweigh all other considerations for our own people.
The authors of this folly are increasingly frightened of informed criticism as their policy is seen blatantly to fail. Mr. John Simpson is denounced as a Serb dupe. Ministers who were flaunting CND badges when there was a real threat to Britain now dismiss General Sir Peter de la Billiére and General Sir Michael Rose as armchair journalists. One does not need an armchair to see where the Government's policy has gone so tragically wrong; a nursery stool will do.
When, as an 18-year-old national service man, I was ordered to officer training school, the first War Office pamphlet that we were given started with the following four paragraphs:
1. Identify an achievable objective.
2. Plan how to reach it.
3. Do not move until you have decided how to deal with the likely problems that may arise.
4. Give no advance indication of your intentions.
That War Office pamphlet must now be out of print because it clearly was not shown to the Prime Minister or his advisers before he announced an air bombardment of Serbia while firmly ruling out any aggressive use of land forces to support it. A more fatuous statement of war policy could hardly be imagined, as I pointed out from my nursery stool as forcefully as I could when the Prime Minister first made it on 23 March, the day before the bombing began.
There has been confusion from the start about the objective. Originally, and for the first few days, the declared objective was to impose the Rambouillet accord on Serbia. There never was an agreement and the accord is now a dead letter. The local Serb population in Kosovo would react to any NATO occupying force, whether it arrived in permissive or aggressive form, just as they treated the Nazi SS. Neither Milosevic nor Tito before him taught the Serbs how to fight a guerrilla war; it is bred in the bone.
Within days, the declared NATO objective was changed. The new objective was to prevent a humanitarian disaster. That has totally failed, as even the American NATO commander in chief, General Clark, has now publicly admitted that air power alone cannot stop paramilitary forces on the ground committing atrocities. One might have thought that that would have been obvious in advance, but it seems to have come as a surprise to our Ministers and their military advisers, as have the facts that the Balkans at this time of year has cloudy weather and that the Serbs are an indomitable race.
To what extent the sending of troops to Macedonia precipitated the Serb decision to drive the Albanians out of Kosovo we must now leave to the historians, but it is certain that the bombing has in no way prevented or ameliorated the appalling suffering of the refugees, and has probably made it worse, and has positively accentuated the intensity and brutality of the so-called ethnic cleansing.
No, I cannot because of the maddening time rule. It ruins all debate, but one must press on.
The Prime Minister likes striking moral poses. I do not question his sincerity, but the practical effect of his policies on ordinary people is what he must be judged by. So far, his policy has been a disastrous failure. He has united the whole Serb nation behind Milosevic and not saved the life or home of a single Albanian refugee. We are now told, as though we did not anticipate it, to prepare for a long war. Within a few weeks, there will be precious few Albanians left in Kosovo and we may be sure that, despite the fine words, most of them will never go back.
There is now even lunatic talk of using Hungary as a possible base for a ground invasion of Serbia, despite the many ethnic Hungarians who live in Serbia and the fury that it would arouse in Russia. We seem to be governed by Ministers who think that foreign policy should be determined by opinion polls, focus groups and television cameras. What is happening in Sierra Leone, about whose atrocities the Foreign Secretary was recently so excited? Is it all sweetness and joy in Freetown now or have the cameras just moved elsewhere?
Despite repeated pledges, repeated again by the Prime Minister over the weekend, that there will be no armed invasion of Kosovo or Serbia against hostile military resistance, all the signs are that preparations are being made to undertake just such an invasion by ground troops. Indeed, although I am wholly opposed to such a course of action, on 23 March, before the bombing started, I pointed out to the Prime Minister, in the clearest terms, that his announced strategy made no sense unless it was going to culminate in the use of ground forces on a large scale and that that would entail heavy casualties.
If the Prime Minister did not understand the truth of that, he is guilty of gross incompetence. If he did understand it, but wished at that stage to conceal the reality of his policy from the people of this country, by using the weasel words of which I accused him, then shameful concealment must be added to the charge of gross misjudgment.
On my first visit to Vietnam during the Vietnam war, there were 300 Americans there in civilian clothing. On my third visit, there were 500,000 American troops in uniform, and General Westmoreland told me that, during the Tet offensive, they had dropped on the Vietcong a higher weight of high explosives than had been dropped on Germany, from all sources, during the whole second world war and that it would be only a matter of months before the Vietcong capitulated. That should be borne in mind before we go any further down that road.
I am not an uncritical supporter of this war. There are many questions that need to be asked and answered, although perhaps this is not the time to ask some of them. However, why did not those who planned this war—and it is a war, I cannot understand the use of any other word; if one bombs and fights people, then it must be a war—plan for the humanitarian problems that have been caused as a result?
During the Easter recess, like many people, I felt wholly frustrated as I saw the war unfold. I saw the result for the 145,000 people who were kept in no man's land in the most atrocious weather, during that period when they were not allowed to cross into Macedonia. Like many people, I wanted Parliament to be recalled because we do have views to express and these occasions produce some of the best debates in the House; people feel strongly about issues of life and death.
I have just spent three days in Macedonia. I went to Skopje on a Russian plane with a Russian crew, with a load of relief organised by Express Newspapers. Once again, that showed the generosity of the British people towards the refugees. I support those who have said how much the NATO troops are appreciated. Some of the camps that I visited had been set up by NATO; those were the best camps and one could see that the soldiers had built up a strong rapport both with adults and children. We delivered some footballs and saw the joy of the children as they played with them, and I am sure that the British public would like to know that their relief—their support and generosity—is much appreciated.
I toured the camps with representatives of the United Nations Children's Fund—UNICEF—and pay tribute to all the aid workers who do such a superb job. The camps were not the worst refugee camps that I have ever seen; unfortunately, I feel that I have seen too many refugees all over the world. However, we heard many individual stories and, because the people of Kosovo are European, they were the stories of a fairly sophisticated population. We heard about people who ran discos or owned three shops, who were university professors or intellectuals and who are now inside those camps surrounded by wire, where they feel trapped.
We heard the desperation of people who do not know where their 90-year-old mother is because they were separated on the border. We heard that when the soldiers came to Pristina and gave the population three minutes to get out of their houses, a small, 12-year-old boy picked up a baby left alone on the street as the soldiers came. As he carried the baby in his arms, he was beaten by Serbian soldiers and had to drop the baby and run for his life. His family have not seen that boy since.
I saw the desperation of people who were separated at the border—a man who had been separated from his wife because she was ill, but who did not know what had happened to her after she was taken away to a rest centre; for three days, he had not known where she was. It sounds ridiculous, but the best thing to do at the moment would be to set up some sort of communication centres inside the camps, so that people had access to telephones. People came to us with pathetic scraps of paper with two telephone numbers written on them; they wanted to contact people in Germany, Macedonia, Albania or Montenegro, but could not get to a telephone. Outside the Red Cross tents were long queues of people who were trying to link up with families from whom they had been separated. All those things are brought home to anyone who visits the camps.
Help is slowly beginning to get to the children. UNICEF has brought desks and chairs to some of the camps and teachers are helping to set up classes. They gave children sheets of paper and crayons and told them to draw whatever they wanted; of course, they all drew pictures of war. They drew maps of Kosovo with barbed wire around it, or a peace dove flying out of it; they drew pictures of guns pointing at people, soldiers with tanks, and houses on fire. I heard people describe how they stood and watched their house going up in flames and how they could not get to members of their family trapped inside—for example, one 12-year-old girl was unable to escape when her house was set on fire.
All those stories are tragic, which is why I appeal to our Government to do something more for the refugees. People told me that they had been asked to which countries they wanted to go, and I looked at the list of countries and saw that Germany, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Poland, Turkey and Switzerland have all taken refugees. Yet I heard my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary say today that we will take 20 refugees, if there is medical need. That is not good enough. People told me that their first choice would have been the United Kingdom, but one man told me, "You don't want us, so I put down Sweden instead." We should be more generous towards the refugees.
Macedonia has been criticised, but as one Macedonian MP told me in Brussels the week before I went, the Macedonians feel extremely angry about that. Macedonia, with a population of only 2.2 million, has taken nearly 200,000 refugees, which is the equivalent of sending 33 million refugees to the United States. To criticise the Macedonians is unfair, because they too have an ethnic balance to maintain. They simply cannot cope with the current situation, and I was not surprised when, the day I left, the Macedonians said that they could not take any more refugees.
When I reached the border, I saw a train load of 2,500 refugees arrive in the same area as the 145,000 refugees who had arrived over Easter; I stood there for two hours, but not one refugee came across the border. Two more trains were expected that day. I spoke to the OSCE major-general in charge of operations, who said, "I don't know how they're going to cope. This is going to be a real challenge to the system." In those circumstances, we should be more generous in offering refugees an opportunity to come to Britain if they want to.
With one exception, every refugee I spoke to said, "I want to go back to Kosovo—that's my home, it's the land of my fathers and I want to go back there." The refugees will not return to their homes unless they are sure that they will be safe. It is ludicrous to suggest that the refugees will return home quickly, because they will not.
In 1991, I saw the Kurds cross the border into Iran in the face of Iraqi attacks. Some of those Kurds are still in refugee camps on the Iranian border. They have never returned home. Some of them are still living in temporary structures because their houses have not been rebuilt. The scale of the destruction in Kosovo is similar to that in northern Iraq where Saddam Hussein destroyed hundreds of villages, which have not been rebuilt. The reality is that many Kosovan refugees will not return home for years and, if they do, they will live in temporary structures.
I have spoken only once this year about this issue in the House. On 14 January, I said that ground troops should be sent in sooner rather than later. My view has not diminished, but strengthened. Until ground troops go in, Kosovo will continue to burn and Kosovan refugees will continue to flood over borders.
I wish to speak, so far as possible, from personal experience. This debate is being held in the shadow of great and tragic events and we must not forget that, as we speak, Kosovo Albanians are being murdered. They are being executed and buried in mass graves and their homes are being burned and looted. The survivors are being ejected forcibly from the territory in which they have lived for many generations.
It is time for clarity. We need clarity about what has or has not been achieved so far. It was hoped that the bombing campaign would somehow draw support away from President Milosevic. It has not done so. The people rallying to him now are those who were close to bringing him down in the mass street demonstrations of two winters ago. I know because I was there. It was hoped also that the bombing would alleviate the plight of the Albanians, but it has done nothing of the sort. I was in Kosovo six days before the bombing started and, in that week, 15,000 Albanians were driven from their homes. In the week after the bombing began, that number rose to 300,000.
We must be clear about the limitations of unsupported air power. In the House last week, I asked the Prime Minister to give me one example from any time or place when unsupported air power achieved a decisive military result. He could not do so because there is no such example. On that occasion, I quoted a serving senior military officer who said:
Circumstances on the ground can be changed only by boots on the ground."—[Official Report, 13 April 1999; Vol. 329, c. 27.]
That view remains true. I understand why the generals are advising Ministers that, for one reason or another—successive defence cuts, for example—we do not have sufficient troops for a ground operation. However, I cannot imagine them advising Ministers that air power alone would do it.
We need clarity about the information campaign—the propaganda war—because a modern war must be fought and won twice over: not only on the field of battle but on the air waves of the world. I deeply regret the fact that British reporters working under severe difficulties in Belgrade—not only Mr. Simpson, but he is the most conspicuous example—have been attacked. They are having enough trouble being vilified and abused on the streets without facing sniper fire from Downing street.
We need clarity also about targeting. If we target a bridge, it is a civilian as well as a military target. If we target a Government building in a built-up area, that is a civilian as well as a military target. If we target roads where civilian and military columns may be mixed together or where Serbian armour may be obscenely protected by human shields, they are civilian as well as military targets. These are very difficult times, and one of the many arguments for the use of ground troops is that they can distinguish between a tractor and a tank.
It is time for clarity about the history of this situation. The House should understand that the Serbs live their history like no other people on earth, except perhaps the Jewish people. Kosovo field is their Masada: it is the place where they will fight and die if they have to. They have mythologised it. Kosovo affects the way in which they operate. It is as if we determined our policy by believing every word of the Arthurian legend. For example, one reason why Milosevic compromised on the future of the Bosnian Serbs was that in 1389, on the field of Kosovo, the then Bosnian Serb king, Vuk Brankovic, was the first to leave the battlefield, and the Serbs have blamed him for the defeat ever since.
An example from recent history is that during the second world war, whenever the Serbs killed a single German, the Germans would kill 100 Serbian civilians—but that did not deter the Serbs, and the present bombardment will not deter them.
We need clarity about the nature of modern warfare. All hon. Members know more about politics than I do, but I can claim to know a little about warfare. Modern warfare, especially as practised by the peoples of the Balkans, makes no distinction whatever between soldiers and civilians, and it violates the Geneva conventions every day. It is not cost-free. We have lived in recent years in an age of illusion, thinking that a military operation can be a cost-free way to settle differences. That view has been reinforced by the relatively easy victory of the Allies in the Gulf war and by the incredibly light British casualties in Bosnia.
Our view has been further reinforced by the actions of the television companies in self-censoring their pictures of war—I have been an accomplice in that—so that people do not understand the realities of war. That happened in Bosnia. We were invited to show the outgoing ordnance but not what happened at the other end: the maiming, the killing and the irredeemable loss of young lives, which is what warfare is about. We have to understand that if we are to proceed further with this course of action, the operation will not be cost-free.
I believe that we should proceed further and that we have no alternative but to do so. From the start of the crisis, our only alternatives were to stay completely out of the situation on the basis that we were not willing to risk casualties, or to become completely involved and decide, on moral grounds, to risk casualties.
I shared a television studio with the Minister for the Armed Forces last week, and I was interested to hear him remark that the Government were doing more than some had urged them to do and less than others had urged. It is as if the Government were piloting a great ship through a large waterway with a channel on either side and a great rock in the middle. They will not take the left-hand channel because of the voices urging them to take the right-hand channel and vice versa, so they head straight for the rock.
We must take a clear course, which is morally defined because it will tell us what kind of people we are. Are we people who will sit back, wring our hands, bomb from afar and let the genocide happen? Or are we people who care enough to take risks that will not only bring peace to the Balkans in the long run but define the security structures that we shall have for our children and grandchildren well into the 21st century?
This is a question of how we react to genocide. It takes us back not only to Srebenica but to the second world war. I assure the House that genocide requires not only the brutality and hatred that make it happen but the indifference that lets it happen. Let not that indifference be ours.
If ever there were a case that justified the House of Commons, it is today's debate. There is disagreement—I shall try to vote against the war tonight—so we should be clear about what we agree on.
There are no apologists for Milosevic in the House. Nobody here could conceive of endorsing, supporting or accepting ethnic cleansing. There are people who are concerned about not only the refugees in Kosovo but the 300,000 Serb refugees from Krajina, who are now being bombed in their refuge in Yugoslavia, and the Serbs who have left Kosovo because of the Kosovo Liberation Army. The Foreign Secretary told us in January that the KLA had killed more Serbs than the Serbs had Albanians.
The argument is not even about force. I favour the use of force, but not by NATO. I want to be specific and clear about that. As I have said in earlier debates, I am of a generation for whom the United Nations charter was the great hope of the world. The charter said clearly that force could be used but only by the Security Council. When NATO was formed, article 1 of its constitution— I looked it up to remind myself of its words—said that its members "shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force …in any …manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."
NATO is breaking its own constitution. I shall turn in a moment to what hope NATO might have of achieving anything. The House is, if I may say so, ill informed by the media and the Government.
The annex of the Rambouillet agreement says that
NATO personnel would be permitted to enter into Yugoslavia from any border—Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, with machinery, arms ammunition and men. Furthermore they have to be given all assistance from the military and civilian authorities throughout Yugoslavia, and would be able to leave their arms in Yugoslav Army depots, or where they so choose.
That was not an agreement; it was an ultimatum. It said to the Serbs, "If you don't accept this, we will bomb you."
What was the Serb response? We are so ill informed that I only discovered it in an article from The New York Times of 8 April, which somebody sent me in one of the thousands of letters that I have received. In that article, Steven Erlanger from Belgrade said:
Just before the bombing the Serbian parliament rejected NATO troops in Kosovo…it also supported the idea of a United Nations force to monitor a political settlement there".
The argument is about whether the answer is NATO troops or an international force.
We all speak from experience. I was a Member of the House at the time of the Suez crisis. The only other Member who can say the same, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), was then the Government Chief Whip. I was advising Hugh Gaitskell, who did not, as Leader of the Opposition, have a television set. He came to my house to watch Eden's broadcast. I sat with Gaitskell at his house in Hampstead for the whole of Sunday 4 November 1956 and helped him, as a young Member would help a party leader, with his broadcast about Suez. He said:
There is no doubt about it that the large-scale invasion of Egypt was an act of aggression…We should have been acting on behalf of the United Nations with their full authority…It is not a police action; there is no law behind it. We have taken the law into our own hands. What are the consequences? We have violated the Charter of the United Nations. In doing so we have betrayed all that Great Britain has stood for in world affairs.
The sound and other technicians were listening, riveted, to that broadcast. That represented my commitment, which is that force can be used only the UN.
We are facing a long war; there is no doubt about that. The war has already spread to Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania, and for all I know, it will spread beyond that. I do not know what the Russians will do. I am told that earlier this afternoon, Yeltsin said that Russia would not allow Yugoslavia to be defeated. We cannot rely on Yeltsin—he may be seeking a foreign crisis to get him off a hook, but so may President Clinton.
How will the situation end? With ground troops? The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), who speaks from great media experience of war, is right—bombing will not work. Troops will therefore be sent in, but if we do that, will it be an occupation, a partition or a protectorate? How will the refugees return? The Opposition properly asked those questions. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) exercised his responsibility as a party spokesman to ask questions that simply have not been answered. Who will pay for the villages to be rebuilt? Those questions are simply brushed aside.
Who wants the war? President Clinton wants the war because he runs NATO. The Prime Minister is continually repeating his commitment to the war. We see pictures of him in the cockpit of aircraft which make clear his intent. NATO wants the war because it will make it credible. Many times I have heard people say, "NATO must be credible," and I realise that the war is not so much about the refugees as about NATO's credibility. The KLA wants the war because we are arming it. We joined in a civil war, and armed the KLA. I will not say that the arms trade wants a war, but there is big business to be made from replacing the armour that has been used.
As for the media, there are daily press conferences. I personally think that it is an insult to our intelligence to personalise all conflicts as if, somehow, shooting Saddam Hussein and Milosevic would return peace to the middle east and the Balkans. What folly to engage in such schoolboy politics. There are complex historical conditions. If Milosevic were shot, somebody else would come along who is just the same, because the Serbs are united. The history is ignored.
The Serbs are demonised. There is demonisation of the enemy in war; we must make out that every Serb is a criminal and it is therefore our duty to kill him. The Serbs are people; people know that they may not like their own Government. The hon. Member for Tatton said that many Serbs want to get rid of Milosevic, yet they are all demonised.
Critics are denounced as appeasers—I have heard that before. I was accused by Bernard Braine, whom I dearly love, of being "Nasser's little lackey" during Suez. He apologised so many times afterwards that I felt quite sorry for him. Critics were always accused of being an agent of the Kremlin, a supporter of the IRA, in favour of Adolf Hitler. That is no way in which to conduct a conflict of this kind.
The peace movement is of course ignored. Last Sunday week, there were 10,000 people in Trafalgar square, but The Guardian did not even mention it because it had to report on the 5,000 people who were protesting in Kuala Lumpur at the arrest of Anwar Ibrahim.
What is the role of Parliament in this war? By chance—it was in the local paper—I know that two of my constituents are soldiers who may be sent to war. Are we just to be observers? Could Jamie Shea have made today's speeches? As far as we are concerned, he could just as well have done so. We are being told by the Government's two chief press officers what is being done, and then told that all parties agree. The right hon. and learned Member for North—East Fife (Mr. Campbell) was fair in saying that he shared my view about the role of Parliament.
There is to be no vote tonight. My Whip has told me, on this great historic occasion, "Your attendance is requested"—with one line under it. Is it not important to the Government to indicate their support? When all we can do is vote on the closure motion, I do not think that many will vote with us—they probably will not—but at least others will be given an opportunity to abstain. I am not so sure whether the Government do not want a vote because, although they might not yet find many against them, many, even from the Conservative party, might not want to go into the Lobby.
We are responsible people. Being a Member of Parliament is a great honour, but it carries responsibility: the responsibility for deciding whether one agrees with the Government of the day. This is an ill thought out policy. It is not legal in character; it is not moral in its implication. I do not make much of the convoy because war is bloody and indiscriminate—it always has been and always will be. Hon. Members who want to be spectators of their fate ought to consider very seriously whether even by abstention, and certainly by not voting, they are assenting to a policy which, in my serious judgment, will not succeed, but which will inflict terrible damage on the Balkans with which we shall have to live for many years to come.
I begin with two primary points that set out my party's position. First, we express to the service men and women who are taking part in this action our full support and our good wishes for their security and safety.
Secondly, I am sure that, regardless of individual or party views of the bombing strategy in the Balkans, all hon. Members share the same deep concern for the displaced and terrorised Albanian population of Kosovo. Their tragedy is played out nightly in front of us, but their suffering can only be imagined as we hear of the appalling atrocities and inhumanity being wreaked by a Serbian army, which must be called to account before the bar of international opinion, as its commanders must before the international court. It is clear beyond any doubt, beyond any debate, that Milosevic and his regime are responsible for this slur on our humanity.
As we debate the gravest humanitarian catastrophe to befall our continent since the second world war, the number of expelled civilians continues to grow. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UN monitors in the region this morning estimated that the total number of refugees is 365,000 in Albania and 132,500 in Macedonia. An additional 73,500 Kosovars have been displaced to Montenegro. That is indeed appalling. We must use all the resources at our disposal to help those in extremity today, and we must find a way in which to make certain that the ordinary Albanian Kosovar population will return in peace to their homes. In doing so, we should not underestimate the scale of the challenge of persuading terrified Kosovars to return to their homes. At least one Labour Member has made that point clearly.
The bombing campaign is now the central challenge to us all in seeking a just and effective solution to the Kosovo crisis. The issue is whether the stated aims of the NATO campaign have been achieved, or can be achieved. I submit that they have not. Indeed, there are no signs of an ability to do so. The debate on ground forces, which has dominated many speeches so far, shows that, as does the increasing information from inside NATO, where grave concerns are being expressed.
I have only 10 minutes and I wish to make my comments.
This is not a party political issue. The issue is being debated in houses and workplaces throughout the country. It is a matter for the views and consciences of those in all parts of the political spectrum. Concerns about the current NATO strategy that have been expressed by members of my party have not been voiced in isolation. Some of the strongest remarks have been made by serving and former members of the military, who know that this campaign is not working and cannot work.
That view is informed by the gradual publication of the real views of military planners, politicians and decision makers around the world. Last week, the chairman of the United States joint chiefs of staff gave evidence to the Senate armed services committee. General Henry Shelton told Committee members that the air war might fail to achieve the prime objective of compelling Milosevic to withdraw from Kosovo. He was expressing a view that was given to Madeleine Albright before the campaign started, yet she and her advisers persisted in the belief that 24 or 48 hours of bombing would conclude the matter. The evidence of four weeks shows that judgment to have been unsubstantiated.
General Shelton's view is amplified by the former commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, General Sir Michael Rose. Writing in one of the Sunday newspapers this weekend, he said:
air-power is a blunt weapon, wholly inappropriate for use by itself in this form of conflict".
He went on to suggest that air power cannot win and that, as a full military campaign seems impossible to organise on any reasonable time scale and would in any case simply escalate international tension, some diplomatic solution needs to be found.
It strikes me that, when an individual of the military experience and calibre of Sir Michael Rose makes such an assessment, it should be listened to. The Government may of course choose to express repugnance at such comments, as they did at earlier interventions along similar lines. It would be wise, even now, for better sense to prevail.
The concerns of military experts such as Sir Michael are also shared by many in the House. Today, I read with interest—I also listened with care to his speech—the comments of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), who wrote:
We are continuing to bomb as if bombing alone would produce the result we wish. But it has not and it will not.
That view is also taken by many outside the House—distinguished churchmen, innumerable journalists and military experts—and was taken from the beginning by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) in his broadcast three weeks ago.
Is the hon. Gentleman reaffirming the Scottish National party's official policy that it is against the action that has been taken in Kosovo? Is he reaffirming his leader's view?
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my comments, he would know that that is abundantly clear. There is a basic right in a democracy to be free to express views sincerely held and well argued, and to show mutual respect for divergent views. That mutual respect is not always shown in this House, as we have seen today.
The key issue now is what comes next in this conflict. I draw hon. Members' attention to today's edition of The New York Times. Under the headline,
U.S. is asking NATO for Sea Blockade of Yugoslavia's Oil",
one of America's most respected newspapers reports on the need to apply full sanctions to Yugoslavia. Incredibly, oil is still being delivered to the former Yugoslavia. There is incredulity in some parts of NATO that, while oil refineries and storage tanks are being bombed, oil is still being bought by a war machine that could be slowed and stopped by the shortage of that one commodity.
Apparently, the oil blockade has not been implemented owing to doubts about its legality. It would, say some, require a UN resolution. Is it conceivable that there can be a bombing campaign for almost four weeks without UN sanction, yet an oil blockade cannot be implemented for lack of one? It is beyond belief.
I believe, my party believes and many people in this country and overseas believe that the bombing campaign has failed in its objectives. Now is the time for new thinking—for moving forward to find solutions that do not further escalate the situation.
Now is the time to make the Russians part of the solution, not part of the problem. Now is the time to put every ounce of effort into humanitarian aid—at least as much as the $2 billion that has rained down from the sky on the poor country of Kosovo. And now is the time to start working out the ways in which we can help the very people for whom, in the name of peace, we may have created a desert in their own country.
The House is overwhelmingly behind the Government, but that has not been evident from the series of speeches that we have just heard. That is because this is a democratic House, because there are many uncertainties, and because it is very proper for colleagues in our democratic assembly to make the sober and sobering speeches that they have made. Four weeks into the campaign, the picture remains very gloomy. Progress is not as great as we had hoped, and there is frustration about that, in the absence of clear evidence that the war aims with which we set out are being achieved.
There is a new wave of atrocities, and new evidence that many hundreds of thousands of people in Kosovo are now in the hills, close to starvation. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence say what air drops are being contemplated to alleviate the plight of those people in the hills? The war is escalating. We hear that United States reservists are being called to the front.
There is a risk of political collapse throughout the Balkans, so the stakes are very high. This conflict is very different from the Falklands conflict, in which the aim was clear—to get the Argentines out of those islands. It is very different from the Iraq conflict in 1990–91, in which the aim was clear—to force Iraq to leave Kuwait. In the Balkans, the aims must necessarily be far muddier.
It was very proper for the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), in a very good speech, to ask for clarity on several aspects—for example, concerning the future constitutional status of Kosovo. We have moved on from Rambouillet, which is dead in many respects. We now talk about some international status, but there is no clear precedent for that. We know about the position in Namibia, in Cambodia and in eastern Slavonia, but each differs from that in the Balkans. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary airily talks about a mixture of international bodies. Surely there should be a United Nations trusteeship, with others helping as appropriate.
There is uncertainty as to how we regard President Milosevic. Is he—as President Clinton now apparently says—to be regarded as a war criminal, who must be hounded out of office, or is he a possible negotiating partner in the endgame in Kosovo? As colleagues have properly said, there are other potential war criminals who are leaders in Balkan states.
What about the role of ground troops? Is it plausible that, at some time, President Milosevic will run up a white flag and say, "I surrender," without any ground forces entering his territory? There would need to be a case for troops to enter in an aggressive posture, rather than by consent. If we insist that ground troops will not enter unless by consent, we must scale down our war aims and realign those aims to the resources that we are prepared to deploy.
It is important for us to point out all the complexities from our armchairs—from the comfort of the Chamber—but the Government had to take decisions, and act decisively. This is a conflict which NATO—whose 50th anniversary is this week-dare not lose, and ultimately cannot lose, because it has vast resources at its disposal, whereas the Serbs have limited resources, rapidly depleted, at their disposal. It is a conflict that Milosevic must not win, because of the precedent that that would set for others who might also be intent on ethnic cleansing in that highly fragile region.
In the immediate future, therefore, we must maintain the military pressure and build our available forces in theatre. We must give President Milosevic a clear signal that we will go as far as is necessary—that we are in earnest, not bluffing. NATO unity is precious, and it is vital that that message be passed to President Milosevic, so that he is in absolutely no doubt.
We must build up our military capacity incrementally. It is true that United Kingdom forces are now in Macedonia, but there are only 14 Chieftain tanks there. That is absurd if we wish to show credibly that we have the will, if we need to, to enter with ground forces. We must give a signal to President Milosevic of greater co-operation with the KLA—at least in terms of intelligence and non-lethal co-operation—and we must show a commitment to the International War Crimes Tribunal, by offering to give it greater help in the form of personnel and resources. By acting in all those ways, we shall give a clear signal.
However, we must adopt a two-track approach—both military and political. We should pursue the military strategy energetically, but we must be ready, in the fairly near future, to rebalance the political and military strategy. That means increasingly consulting Russia as a partner and seeking to work with the United Nations, ever to be ready to accept an outcome that may be less than total victory, if the broad objectives that we seek can be achieved—such as that of avoiding a wider Balkans war.
We should leave the door open for compromise, and avoid that absolutist language which, alas, is used by some retired US generals and even President Clinton. To make an eventual negotiated settlement possible, we should avoid using words such as holocaust and genocide.
If possible, we should avoid making Serbia a wasteland, ruined and humiliated. We should think of the example of Germany in 1918, and the ghost that haunted Europe later. We should remember the complexities of the history of the Balkans—the fault line of Europe. A multi-ethnic empire is unravelling, with all the consequences that might flow from that. We should remember that, before Racak, the KLA had killed more civilians than the Serbs—and there is the memory of Krajina.
However, compromise must come from strength, not from weakness. It may include keeping an open mind about the nature of the military—yes, military—force that will have to enter Kosovo to ensure that the refugees may return in safety and stability. The OSCE and NATO may play a part, but they will have to work very closely indeed with Russia—and, as far as possible, do so under the umbrella of the United Nations. Compromise would not rule out partition if greater goals could thereby be achieved. Remember that the boundaries in that area are often very ill-defined, as we saw in Bosnia.
Mistakes have been made. One was to ignore the warning on the road sign which read—like those that we see in London and elsewhere—"Do not enter box unless your exit is clear." In my judgment, intervention was necessary, however. That cannot be over-emphasised.
Now NATO must look long, and look at the big picture. The big picture is in part humanitarian—the need to help that great sea and mass of suffering people who have been forced out as a result of ethnic cleansing, and who were in the process of being forced out before bombing started. Let us not forget that. However, politically, we must signal to Milosevic that we are prepared for the long haul if necessary, and that we are prepared to enter Kosovo aggressively, without his consent; but that, if our humanitarian and political aims, including those regarding the future of the Balkans, can be substantially attained without the total ruin and humiliation of Serbia, we would be prepared to settle for less than total victory.
There is a long and honourable tradition in the House that in times of conflict right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber give unqualified and wholehearted support to our forces. I am glad that the Conservative party has offered that support since the beginning of the crisis. As a former Regular soldier, I have every reason to understand the importance of that support. However, that does not mean that the Opposition or hon. Members on both sides of the House should renounce their right and duty to examine carefully the performance of the Executive. Indeed, at times of war, the monitoring of the Government's performance is even more crucial than it usually is.
Over the past day or two we have had some extraordinary examples of the extent to which the Government are at sea—a matter to which I shall return. A balanced examination of the way in which the Government have handled the Kosovo crisis can conclude only that we are witnessing a fiasco on a scale that this country has not seen for generations. I think that we should have to go back to the Boer war to find a military situation where the enemy has been so thoroughly misunderstood, where planning and foresight have been so glaringly absent and where the strategic concept on which our campaign appears to be based is so greatly at variance with the great majority of military thinking and the experience of our armed forces.
Never can a collection of Ministers—in interviews on television or radio and in articles in the press—have seemed so completely at sea, so entirely unable to control events and so uncomprehending of what is going on. It may be offered as a plea in exculpation that the Government have been dragged into this situation by the United States. As a long-standing admirer of America and much of what that country stands for, I have to say that that is a valid complaint and a valid point to make. However, the US contribution to Europe's security has always been, and continues to be, tremendous, and crucial to Europe, and we Europeans must do more in future to deserve a continuation of American support. The Americans sometimes miscalculate, however; and when we think they are on the wrong track, we have a duty, as their close friends and allies, to tell them so. Conservative Prime Ministers have done so in the past. The present Prime Minister clearly has failed to do so.
Perhaps both Governments are in the dock, therefore, but the performance of the US Government is a matter for the American Congress and the American people. It cannot be used in a plea of mitigation for the British Government.
The list of charges is lengthy, so I can offer only a selection. For a year the Government blustered with Milosevic hoping to browbeat him into acceptable behaviour. When that failed, they turned to aerial bombardment, apparently hoping that that would achieve his rapid submission. They have been surprised that the use of air power has not brought the success they were after. Yet, as we have heard so often this evening, the vast majority of military commentators could have told them, and did tell them, what would happen.
The use of air power alone hardly ever works. The Government have been surprised not only that Milosevic is still there but that he now enjoys more popular support than he did when the bombing started. They have been surprised that once the action began Serb atrocities against the Kosovars increased, so that since 24 March thousands more have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been turned into refugees. The figure offered today by the United National Development Programme is that 600,000 refugees have been created in recent weeks. The Government gratuitously told Milosevic that NATO would not use ground troops, thus giving him more reason to hope that he could secure a satisfactory settlement of the terrible situation that he had created. The Government told Milosevic that he would be tried as a war criminal, giving him a further incentive to hold out against the bombing and to refuse to negotiate. The list is much longer.
Even this Government, having reached this situation, must surely accept that we cannot merely continue with the bombing month after month after month. The Foreign Secretary has given us no idea of when the bombing might achieve any sort of success. There are now only two choices facing NATO Governments. They could call off the bombardment and patch up whatever accommodation they can manage with Milosevic, perhaps hoping that the Russians will come to see it as being somehow in their own interest to play a constructive role. Or they could recognise what they should have understood before they started to threaten the Serbs and before they started the bombing, which is that they will achieve their aims only by backing up the aerial bombardment with the use of land forces.
I believe that things have gone too far for the first option to be acceptable. Quite apart from the messy situation that it would leave in Kosovo and the neighbouring states, it would represent a massive and humiliating defeat for NATO. Such a defeat is something that we and all western nations simply could not afford, for many reasons which I think most Members will appreciate.
Of course, the ground force option has great difficulties, not least because it has been so emphatically ruled out by the Government until quite recently. However, I refuse to accept that the most successful military alliance ever created is unable to tackle the Yugoslav army, particularly once the military infrastructure pounding takes its effect, bearing in mind what we have seen over the past three or four weeks.
From this Government-created fiasco we must learn important lessons for the future. We must never again be sleepwalked into this sort of mess by a Government who are bemused by spin doctoring and who understand so little of the military and strategic realities that modern Governments have to face. In this post-cold war world, are we and our western allies prepared to intervene in sovereign states for humanitarian reasons? I am inclined to think that the answer to that question will be—and perhaps should be—yes, if only because of what they refer to in the United States as the CNN factor. If we are to intervene, it must be on the basis of clear thinking and careful planning. Those factors have been totally absent from the Government's handling of the Kosovo affair.
We must examine what role there will be for the UN and the Security Council. What will this mean for the common foreign and security policy of the European Union and for the European defence and security identity? How will this affect our relations with the US? All those questions are for another day. The Government must now say to their NATO allies that the Kosovo affair must be brought to an acceptable conclusion, and that can be done only with the use of land forces.
I share with colleagues an abhorrence of ethnic cleansing and condemn unreservedly any atrocities committed by either side. If evidence is available, the perpetrators should be prosecuted. I condemn also the war that is waged by NATO against the people of Yugoslavia, which is why this weekend I visited Yugoslavia to learn at first hand the people's views about how the bombing is affecting their lives and what they see of the future.
I visited Novi Sad on Saturday and stood with citizens of that multi-ethnic city on the one remaining bridge across the Danube. Twenty-six ethnic communities live peacefully in Vojvodina and they were all represented on the bridge. I and the journalists who accompanied me were allowed to mix freely with the people. We were under no restrictions as we talked to the people about the refugee crisis and the bombing. We heard many expressions of sympathy from the ordinary people on that bridge. They overwhelmingly blamed NATO for the escalation of the problem in Kosovo; that united them. [Interruption.] They referred to the Kosovo Liberation Army as people who had perpetrated serious acts, and compared the position with other situations in the world involving the Kurds and the IRA.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) felt fit to laugh when the people about whom I was talking live under nightly bombardments. They have a right to express a view. Such cheap behaviour does not do anything to enhance the debate.
The people in Novi Sad know what is happening. They watch CNN and BBC television. They know what happened to the Zastrava—
I will not give way.
The people in Novi Sad know what happened to the Zastrava car and tractor factory, where the workers staged a sit-in. They faxed the co-ordinates to NATO and Clinton, but NATO still went ahead and sent 25 cruise missiles to bomb that factory. If hon. Members visited the factory, as I did, they would think it a miracle that nobody died—160 were injured—and they could still go into the centre, where the sit-in was, to see the blood splattered over the makeshift beds and chairs.
When the sirens went, there was no chance to evacuate everyone and people saved themselves by getting under the main structure, carrying the injured with them. Somehow it held and lives were not lost. The bombing that night shattered the heating plant that serves a large residential area—it was completely destroyed—and a large area is without any heating whatever.
The workers whom I met and talked to quite freely were pretty angry. They wanted me to give a message to the House. They said that they had harmed nobody. Many of them had demonstrated against Milosevic, but they asked me to say, "We will fight for our country in every town, every village and every house and behind every tree. If the Americans use defoliants, as they did in Vietnam, we will fight from tunnels. We are not going to give up." That is the message from the Zastrava factory and from the bridge at Novi Sad, which is the only one standing. The bridges have been bombed. As any civil engineer would tell the House, when a bridge crosses a river it carries the water supply—in this case, to the main hospital. That has gone, and so have all the cables.
As has been said, bombing bridges harms civilians; in this case, it has. Tremendous damage has been done to the civilian population. An hour after we left, the heaviest bombing yet took place in Novi Sad. These bombs are hitting civilian targets.
Early on Sunday morning, I heard the sirens. A bombing attack was taking place on Pancevo, where petrol tanks and the chemical factory went up. Pancevo is about five or six miles outside Belgrade. I stood looking out my hotel bedroom window, wondering what to do and watching clouds of noxious fumes go up, as the plant took a direct hit.
On Sunday, I visited a small town called Chubria. I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary would not let me intervene earlier, because I have brought a message from a citizen of that town. It was bombed in the early hours of 8 April: one woman was killed, five were injured and 400 residential homes were either flattened or badly damaged. This is not propaganda; I witnessed it with my own eyes. In the town centre, a school of nursing, a department store and the sports hall—500 m from where the seven bombs fell—have been badly damaged.
I talked to a dentist and his wife who referred to themselves as "collateral damage". Their home was completely destroyed above their heads as they hid for shelter in the cellar. The wife was injured and they are deeply traumatised. The so-called military target was a long-time disused barracks 2 km from the residential area. That attack was on civilians, as were the attacks on the train, the factories and the refugee column. It is no good telling these people, as they run each night into their bomb shelters, that NATO is not attacking them. They know that it is. That town opposed Milosevic; it is now 100 per cent. behind him.
On Sunday evening, we visited Pancevo, where the oil refineries and the chemical plant were blazing out of control. Restrictions meant that we were not allowed to film and talk to the staff, but workers died there during the previous bombing raid, and I got the feeling-which can be translated into any language—that there was no way that they wanted to talk to us. I could taste and smell the fumes and I was glad to get out of there. Of course, there is nowhere for those people to go.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who has taken a great interest in refugees and knows a lot about them. I firmly believe that, if we are to help those miserable refugees, we need a political solution—not an ultimatum. NATO can wreak massive damage and destroy Yugoslavia, but that will not get a single Kosovar refugee home. The Yugoslays will negotiate, but they will not accept a foreign occupation by NATO.
Those who now beat so euphorically the drums of war for ground troops to go in would soon be despairing, when the body bags started coming home. President Clinton might have the reassurances of the Heads of Government in Macedonia, Montenegro and Bulgaria, but what about the support of the people—the majority of whom are Serbs? In Montenegro, Djukanovic hangs on by a thread, threatened not by Milosevic, but by his own people.
Would it be helpful for my hon. Friend to know that she has the support of the Montenegrin Education Minister, who faxed me at home this weekend? He simply said that it was quite clear that there could be no winners in such a war and appealed to this Parliament to recognise that the Montenegrin people—who do not support Milosevic, but are deeply opposed to the bombing—want the peace that the bombing stands in the way of.
I thank my hon. Friend. I am glad that I gave way; that was a useful intervention.
Meanwhile, the Russians are sidelined. Russia is already aiding Yugoslavia—the Duma wants to arm it and send in troops. It could get much, much worse. The Russians say, "Why shouldn't we, because the KLA is helped by the Americans?" I have to tell the House that the Kosovo Liberation Army had 18 American advisers with it at Rambouillet, and everybody knows that weapons are coming in from there.
The United Nations and Russia could broker a peace. Yeltsin's warning today should not be ignored, in my opinion. Members of the House who laugh about that should remember that Russia still has many nuclear weapons and is in an unstable situation. It is in our interests to get the Russians involved. Yugoslavia would accept a large, unarmed multinational group and UN or Russian brokering, and they must be brought into the negotiations.
The international community could oversee such an agreement with massive aid for a settlement and for rebuilding—not only in Kosovo, but in Serbia itself, which has suffered millions of pounds of damage through the NATO bombing. The alternative—ground troops—is absolute nonsense. There would be massive loss of life and invasion would be very difficult, as we have heard from people who are far more experienced than I am.
The people of Yugoslavia feel deep bitterness and anger. I spoke to a veteran who housed a Royal Air Force fighter pilot during the war, at great risk to him and his family. I cannot express how he feels. They have sympathy for the Kosovars. It is nonsense to say that they do not know what is happening. Many of them cannot do anything about Milosevic, but would like to if they could.
Are we seriously going to follow slavishly American policy that devastates another part of the world, after Afghanistan, Cambodia and many other places, or are we going to do the only thing that makes sense? We should start talking and stop bombing.
I begin by making two parliamentary points. First, I agree very much with what the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has said. We should be debating a substantive motion. In a democracy, a Government who wish to pursue a campaign for explicit objectives should come to the House and get explicit authority, both for the war and for the objectives. I know that holding an Adjournment debate is in accordance with precedent; I regret that precedent and believe that a substantive motion should be before the House.
Secondly, and differently, I regret the underlying feeling in some parts of the House that it is wrong during a war to criticise the conduct of the Executive. The service men deserve our admiration and our support, but we, as Members of the House, have a duty to express our views as we have them. Frequently, we do best that way in serving the interests of the service men. Let us not forget that, as a result of the criticisms made of the Government in the Norway debate in May 1940, Mr. Chamberlain resigned and was replaced by Churchill. I do accept, however, that, when we express ourselves, we need to be careful not to encourage Mr. Milosevic in his obduracy.
I am one of those Members who oppose, and opposed, the decision to resort to bombing. I have expressed my reasons before, so I shall be brief, but in substance they are these. First, there are compelling arguments against becoming involved in civil wars. Secondly, I do not believe that Britain's strategic interests are sufficiently prejudiced by Mr. Milosevic. Thirdly, I do not believe that our declared objectives can readily be achieved by the resources being made available by NATO. The plain truth is that we are in this position because NATO painted itself into a corner by the threats that it made, so it had no alternative. That should not have happened.
First, it is a sad fact that, thus far, this campaign has not been well managed. NATO did not fully anticipate the ferocity of Mr. Milosevic's response in Kosovo. It should have done. Secondly, NATO does not fully understand the determination of Milosevic or the Serbian people. It should do. Thirdly, we have not made available to the NATO command sufficient air force. Where are the Apache helicopters now? Lastly, we deprived ourselves of the leverage that might have been available to us, had we decided to deploy more ground troops into theatre.
May I make one point with regard to what has happened in Kosovo? Of course, Milosevic intended to move against the Kosovo Liberation Army, and that would have resulted in much killing of Kosovars. The extent of what has happened is not the result of our action; but, in a sense, our action was the occasion of it, because Milosevic used the withdrawal of the monitors and the start of bombing as an excuse and an occasion for what happened. His is the moral culpability, but we should not say that what has happened would have happened in any event.
May I make two points about Milosevic and the Serbs? I have had at least four extended meetings with Milosevic and have been to Belgrade on many an occasion. Milosevic is an extremely formidable opponent. He is stubborn, ruthless, intelligent and devoid of moral scruples—the most dangerous kind of opponent. The Serbian people are determined to resist what they regard as an act of aggression. They are united by the fact of the bombing and, to endorse what the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) said, they place great value on Kosovo being part of Serbia.
The war objectives have been detailed today by the Foreign Secretary. I am bound to say that they are being developed as we go along. In truth, they are little more than a demand for unconditional surrender by the Serbs. So far as Milosevic is concerned, they are made even more unpalatable by the fact that his arraignment before the International War Crimes Tribunal is clearly being contemplated—as, in one sense, it should be. However, we shall not find those objectives easy to secure, and we shall not secure them unless we beat the Serbs on the field of battle.
We have three options: first, a unilateral decision to discontinue; secondly, to go for broke; and, thirdly, to come to some compromise. I am not in favour of unilateral discontinuation. We have gone too far for that and NATO's credit is too heavily pledged; nor am I in favour of going for broke, because either the bombing would have to be so intense as to become immoral, or ground forces would have to be deployed in an outright war, and I am not in favour of that. Therefore, we must go for a compromise, giving Milosevic what he most certainly does not deserve and giving to the Kosovars less than they merit. Partition will probably be the outcome of all that.
I shall make four concluding remarks because I have only four minutes left. First, I do not expect the Government to articulate support for what I have just said—at least, not in public. All that I ask of them is not to paint themselves into further corners. We do not want to over-extend our commitment. We do not want, in due time when we enter into a compromise, to have to make a feast of statements previously uttered. Secondly, we need to move swiftly to a compromise agreement. It will have to be made privately and will probably involve both the Russians and the United Nations. Thirdly, we shall probably be faced with a long-term problem of resettling many Kosovars because, even doing the best that we can, not all Kosovars will return to Kosovo, especially if there is a partition. This country, in common with all others, will have to be generous in that regard. Lastly, we shall require forces in Kosovo. Whether it is partitioned or not, there is a long-standing commitment ahead of us. We must ask ourselves whether there are forces sufficient to do that and contemplate whether more should be brought into theatre now.
The options are bleak. I wish that we were not in this position. Our policy should be to avoid action that gives Milosevic what he needs and wants. We should not involve ourselves in a policy of total war. At the same time, however, we must realise that a total fulfilment of the stated objectives will not happen. We must work for a compromise, and soon.
I cannot remember, in my 12 years as a Member of the House, ever taking part in a debate in which I am so opposed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I do not feel comfortable disagreeing with my right hon. Friend, but I have to say that I disagreed with much of what he said. His analysis was wrong and I was dismayed to hear of his blind faith in the ability of the United Nations to solve everything. Anyone who understands how the United Nations operates knows that Russia and China would have used their veto, and action would never have been taken against Milosevic had we depended on that. The blue beret argument is not, therefore, sustainable, which is why I cannot support it.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) asked why we were in Kosovo. Perhaps we should concentrate on that considered question. It is because of the evil behaviour of Milosevic. It is a humanitarian catastrophe, and I have no problem with being on the left of politics and supporting action to defend a humanitarian cause, as we are doing in Kosovo. I just wish that hon. Members who argue against the NATO action in Kosovo, which they have a right to do, would not slant their arguments against America. Their arguments lose credence when they are articulated in such a way.
Having said that, I, too, have criticisms about what has led us to this position. War is the result of diplomatic failure and/or the lack resolve to recognise evil when we are confronted by it. We were confronted by Milosevic in 1990 when he invaded Slovenia. It does not come well from the Conservative party to criticise what is happening now, given the inaction at the beginning of the decade, which allowed Milosevic to perpetrate his evil even further.
I sit at home the same as any other citizen and I do not necessarily express my view because of opinion polls in my constituency. However, when I speak to my constituents, I know what their feelings are. Nobody likes the thought of being involved in such a conflict, but it is difficult to find many people in my constituency who do not agree that there was a need to take some action.
We should not forget that Milosevic put 40,000 troops and 300 tanks in Kosovo to carry out his policy of ethnic cleansing. That precipitated the need for action to stop him. In fairness, the refugee crisis could not have been properly estimated. I find it difficult to get my mind around the concept of what leads people to be so evil to one another. I know that that is happening on both sides, but we know what Milosevic is doing.
I read a report last week about a 10-year-old boy who was sheltering in a house with 14 relatives. The two men of the house were hiding in the hills because, until then, Milosevic's murdering gangs had not killed women and children. However, they burned down the house, killing nine children and five women. The little boy was shot in the arm and faked death—the only way he survived. We must understand why we are in Kosovo.
I went to the NATO headquarters with the Defence Committee in January—and here is where I have some criticism. Let me be perfectly blunt: my criticism is not that action was taken, but that it should have been taken earlier. It certainly should have been taken when Slovenia was invaded and the Bosnian war started. At the beginning of the year, we knew that Milosevic was getting his troops together. That is when we should have moved.
At NATO headquarters, a British general told us that there was a triangle of ways, means and endgame. I do not blame the military, which had the ways and means, but not the endgame. The vacillation on that matter has caused much of the confusion and many of the problems.
It was foolish to say that we would not send in ground troops; I do not see the sense or the rationale in that. I support the Government in not sending ground troops in at present; but, if we had had that endgame at the beginning, it might have affected the thinking of Milosevic.
No, I am sorry. I will not give way, because I have only 10 minutes.
Mention has been made of Russia. I was in Moscow some weeks ago, and I met Russian politicians in the Duma. We understand that Russian presidential and parliamentary elections are pending. Hon. Members are right—I am sure that the Foreign Secretary, who is in his seat, and all Governments understand this—in thinking that the Russians are central to reaching a solution. My view is that the Russians told Milosevic to settle at the Rambouillet peace discussions, but that Milosevic did not believe that NATO would take action. To use an unparliamentary term, Milosevic told the Russians to get stuffed. The Russians are now in a difficult position.
The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) talked of compromise; compromise is appeasement in these situations. I say, "Shame on that solution." To those who want to stop the killing—as we all do—I say that only action will stop the killing in Kosovo. To those who talk about UN solutions, I say that we have three UN resolutions. To those who are wavering, I ask them to look through the eyes of that 10-year-old boy in Kosovo who faked death while 14 members of his family lay dead beside him.
I recognise that the Government and NATO were faced with a sensitive situation following the breakdown of the Rambouillet talks. The choice was clear to many at the time; either we did nothing, or we intervened on humanitarian grounds to end the brutality of ethnic cleansing. I was not surprised, therefore, that the Government—together with their NATO partners—took the unanimous decision to support intervention by the use of force. Nor was I surprised that, faced with the prospect of a well-armed enemy in a hostile environment, the nations concerned were reluctant to risk the prospect of heavy casualties, and opted for an aerial bombardment.
The Foreign Secretary will accept that there was a desire to contain the conflict and to prevent it from spreading through the Balkans, leading to the involvement of Russia. There has been every attempt to try to keep Russia on-side. I recognise the political considerations, having been in the Army in the second world war and, subsequently, a Minister under Lord Carrington when we had to deal with the opening difficulties in Northern Ireland. That reminds me that we must balance military force with military feasibility and political consideration if we are to bring public opinion along with us.
What worries me is that public opinion expects quick results and—invariably in today's atmosphere, and as a result of our history since the war—a bloodless war. It would be inexcusable if, in the course of listening to public opinion and looking at the difficulties, we allowed the reputation of NATO to suffer. That is the point on which I wish to concentrate.
As a member of the NATO parliamentary assembly, I—along with colleagues from the House—will be attending the NATO summit this weekend. I am concerned about the effect of what we say there and what we do now in Kosovo on people's present perception of NATO, and of the alliance itself. For 50 years, the alliance has kept the peace. I conclude that if the public are likely to grow more and more impatient about what is happening, they will look to NATO and say that NATO has failed. It would be inexcusable to allow that to happen.
Throughout the cold war, NATO was regarded as the most successful political and military alliance in modem history. It faced, on a fixed border, a tough enemy with a single front line. NATO bluffed it out; not just with words, but with a willingness and conviction that, if necessary, force would be used. There was no question that nuclear forces would have been used if there had been an attack by the then Soviet Union.
Since then, NATO has turned its attention to adapting the alliance to enlarge its membership. It has embarked on a new relationship with Russia, as a result of the NATO Russian Founding Act. It has made other arrangements through "Partnership for Peace" with former enemy countries. NATO is looking at the new threats to European security which could emanate from outside its previously established frontiers. NATO started on a formidable task of reshaping its strategy which was not complete when this situation blew up in our faces.
How do we give effect to the NATO strategy in a way that entails implementing changes in its modus operandi? The thinking is there, but it is not reflected on the ground. There is a recognition of the need for more flexible forces, which are capable of quicker responses and able to cope with sudden outbreaks of violence, terrorism, drugs, refugees, chemical and biological missiles, as well as with peace enforcement, peacekeeping and regional disputes that could affect the security of the NATO Euro-Atlantic alliance. It would be a tragedy if NATO's capabilities, and our confidence in it, were besmirched during the transition.
Talk of sending thousands of ground troops to deal with the Serbian crisis invariably leads to questions about whether NATO is up to the job. Indeed, such questions have already been asked. I think that we are all aware of the risks, which have been mentioned today. The ports of entry are inadequate, the airfields are limited and the terrain is hostile, favouring guerrilla warfare. In any event, the build-up of additional forces would take some months.
The following question than arises. If ground forces are to be used—and I think that they are needed—which country will bear the biggest burden? Obviously it will be the United States which hitherto has shown a marked reluctance to send troops to NATO to help us to discharge our duty. That is hardly a recipe for a more balanced and efficient alliance.
I think that this has emerged from the dispute. The European alliance cannot go on expecting the United States to pull the chestnuts out of the fire. The imbalance between our technology and that of the United States forces is one of the reasons why we are not more effective in the present struggle. We need better logistics, intelligence-gathering and communications; we need allies in high-tech systems. The gap between the European members of the alliance and the United States inhibits the development of a better and more respectable working relationship for NATO in the next century, as well as in the current crisis. Meanwhile, we cannot allow the Kosovo situation to undermine the harmony between the allies that has been such a cardinal principle of NATO's success, or to damage our confidence in its future and its ability to play its full part in the present crisis.
Terrible things are happening now, and the only chance of preventing more from happening during the next few weeks will be through entering into talks with President Milosevic, unpalatable and unpopular though that option may be. What other way is there?
Let me ask the Foreign Secretary about war crimes. If he were to learn that, day after day, he and his colleagues were to be arraigned for such crimes, what would be his reaction? It would be to fight to the death. It must also be taken into account—although we may not find it easy to understand—that many Serbs now want to be heroes, as their grandfathers were when they fought the Wehrmacht and were Tito's partisans. That is the psychology. Any ground war would therefore be a formidable undertaking, rendered all the more formidable by the fact that the only point of entry is over Albania, which features an unsatisfactory infrastructure and mountains rising to 6,000 ft. Where else is there any entry?
Let me ask another question. Is it wise for western leaders to repeat time and again that the Kosovar Albanians have asked them to continue the bombardment? Let us suppose that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was a Serbian soldier in Kosovo, and knew that the bombings described by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) were taking place in his area, damaging factories and, inevitably, causing collateral damage. What would be his attitude to those who, we are repeatedly told, have asked for the bombing to continue, and to continue more intensely?
My right hon. Friend says that he has spoken to the Foreign Ministers of seven countries. What is the position of the Greeks? We read, for example, that the Mayor of Athens has asked for the bombing to end forthwith. I hope that my right hon. Friend, the Defence Secretary, will tell us something about that when he winds up the debate.
I also want to ask about the Kosovo Liberation Army. In an intervention that was not well received, I directly quoted from the report of the German federal police. Have Ministers seen that report? Have they seen the Europol report? I have seen extracts, but they may have seen the full report. If I am wrong, no doubt they will say so.
I am among those who were here in the late 1960s, during the arguments about Vietnam. If I go into the Lobby tonight with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), it will be partly because I feel that Parliament has been insufficiently considered in all this. Thirty years ago, Harold Wilson—who took a rather different view on Vietnam from his party at the beginning—used to sit here hour after hour listening to what was said, as did many senior members of the Government. Harold Wilson—and it was not his party's large majority that made him do this—stood up to pressures from Lyndon Johnson that, because of the financial situation and the state of the pound, were far greater than those being exerted now by an American president. I think that it is a loss to the country that Parliament was not heeded much earlier, when the dissenters could at least have had their say.
During the last debate on Kosovo, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that there were no problems with the Russians. He had been having valuable discussions about Murmansk, the future of the Soviet Arctic fleet and the millennium, which could potentially lead to a very dangerous situation. Are those discussions continuing, or have they been broken off? The Russians are extremely angry about what they, and those in much of the rest of the world, see as cost-free militarism.
Let me return to the subject of Vietnam for a moment. Troop numbers are increased constantly in the search for the elusive light at the end of the tunnel: that is the situation that we seem to be in. Have we learned from Vietnam?
Let me ask specifically about pollution. What, in the view of Foreign Office Ministers, is the truth about what happened last night, and has happened before, in regard to chemical plants? What happens if a nuclear plant is hit?
There is also a Serbian point of view, which I want to put in the words of a Serbian citizen whom I would prefer not to name. She writes:
I restate: the ignorance on which NATO based its attack constitutes criminality.
To explain by means of the simplest metaphor. You are kindly invited into someone's house. You are plied with cakes and tea. You take up residence. You produce a large, very large, number of children at great speed. You like the house and ask for it to be given you. When this is refused you take out a gun, having previously armed yourself illegally, and try to shoot me. The shot fails so you call in NATO, with its 19 nations, including the most powerful nation in the world, to shoot me for you.
I am not saying whether that should be endorsed. All I am saying is that it is a view that we had better take account of and that the Serbs are extremely determined people. NATO's bombs have blasted the germinating seeds of democracy out of the soil of Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro and ensured that they will not sprout again for a very long time.
The solution that has been given by Sir Michael Howard should be considered. He is Chichele professor of the history of war. He says:
The alternative is a negotiated settlement that Serbia can live with, even if it does not satisfy the maximal demands of either side. The danger is that public opinion in the West is now becoming so heated that any compromise settlement will be condemned as surrender or, worse, 'appeasement' and no Allied leader will dare to recommend it. But the longer the war goes on, the less likely it is that this option will remain open.
Sometimes making peace requires as much courage as waging war.
Making peace requires as much courage as making war: that is the point that I should like to leave the House with. We should have the courage to start negotiations as the only hope of saving the plight of those people in Kosovo and, indeed, saving much more.
I apologise to the hon. Members who have already spoken and to the House that I was not able to be present earlier. I hope that the House will forgive me when I explain that I left Skopje at 3 o'clock this morning and have been travelling ever since. [Interruption.]
Order. I heard some hon. Gentleman make a remark about why the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) was called. He was called because I called him.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I was in Skopje because I was representing the House on behalf of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs at an important meeting of the Royaumont process, which was attempting to rebuild the structure of south-eastern Europe. I am pleased to report that, at the meeting, we reached a joint position. It was agreed by all the countries that were represented, including all the Balkan states, with the exception of Serbia, which was not present. The meeting was attended by many European Union states, including Greece. It condemned Mr. Milosevic's position and called on him to accept the NATO requirements for the withdrawal of forces and for the establishment of an international force.
My reason for rising to speak is to express in an inadequate way my reaction to having been at the Stankovac I camp, the Brazda camp, last night and to having seen for myself the pitiful position of the Kosovar refugees there. I wish to bring to the House whatever I can of their experience.
People say that one has to experience war truly to know what it means. Perhaps one has to experience the after effects of war to understand what that means as well. I feel humbled by having met people who are in that position. The stories that those refugees told me last night will live with me for ever. I do not think that I can properly express the brutality that they have suffered in Kosovo.
I heard stories of people being burned alive in their houses. I heard stories of babies being taken away from the arms of their mothers immediately after birth and thrown away, throwing away a young life. I heard from a six-year old girl who had lost all her family. She did not know where her sisters were, or whether they were dead or alive. She was alone in the teeming camp of refugees.
The most precious commodity in the camp was one that I could provide temporarily: a mobile telephone. With that, refugees could at least attempt to let someone know where they were. There was no other mechanism to do so. One of the most poignant things is the wall in the camp, where little notes suggest where people might he-where in Macedonia, Albania, Turkey, Germany or wherever else they might be taken—so that those families might, in time, be reunited.
It is a well-ordered camp because of the involvement of British troops, who have been instrumental in setting it up. I say that the camp is well ordered—there are tents and some structure—but there is inadequate sanitation. There are no cooking facilities. There are no facilities for children to play. That may seem a trivial matter, but it is not when we consider the age range of the people there. There is nothing to bring any sense of normality to those people's lives after the experiences that they have had in escaping from Kosovo.
The British soldiers whom I met there, some of them from the west country, were remarkable in their resilience and determination. One of the comments that I heard from an Albanian was how pleased he was to see the British contingent. He said that, however hard the British service men worked, they were always smiling and the refugees did not usually see people in uniform smiling. It made a big impression on him that there were at least some people bringing humanity to the situation. The one thing that the refugees wished to report was the Macedonian guards, to whom I will return. The position of Macedonia is important.
The refugees had two messages that they wanted me to give to the House. I spoke to many hundreds as I went around. One message was their determination to go home. That is their simple wish. They want to go home and to rebuild their lives. They do not want to be evacuated for good, or to stay in Macedonia or Albania. They do not want to create some new political structure. They simply want to go home and to continue their lives.
I asked the refugees the question that we have all asked: was the NATO action making things better or worse? Not a single person said anything other than, "Please continue to the end. The only hope we have is for NATO action to continue."
My fear is that those camps have great capacity to deteriorate. One matter has caused me concern. I ask the Foreign Secretary to take note of it and perhaps to take further action. Macedonia is in a frightful position in the war. I have the greatest sympathy for its Government. It is a small, fragile country that is having great difficulty in bringing the resources to bear that are needed to deal with the massive influx of people, which is out of all proportion to anything that we could imagine.
As those people are fond of telling us, the equivalent would be 5 million people turning up on the coast of Kent asking for succour. That is a huge burden for the Macedonians to bear. I salute them in their efforts and for the integrity that they have brought to the process. However, the views of some people in Macedonia are not as we would want them to be. They do not think in the way in which we would like. The Macedonian guards have been guilty of beating people up and of switching on hoses to flood parts of the camp.
The refugees are telling us that the only thing stopping the guards is the presence of foreign troops—that small contingent. It may only be 30 troops, the number may be nominal, but that is what is stopping the guards. We need to maintain a presence there of troops from Britain or some other NATO force to stop that happening. In the longer term, what needs to happen is for those camps to come under United Nations control and for UN troops to maintain the camps. There is no overall control at the moment. That is worrying.
On Saturday, I was told by Albanian Members of Parliament that they applauded everything that was being done and saluted the efforts of the western powers, but that only 30 per cent. of the aid that they had been promised had arrived and that they were getting desperate. I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary could tell us why that might be so.
When one is in the area, one cannot escape watching the Serbian satellite television and the diet of propaganda that the Serbs receive, which to us is horrifying. It is a constant repeat of what are termed NATO atrocities. There are pictures of people in Pristina and across Kosovo waving Yugoslav flags and holding up pictures of Mr. Milosevic, saying what a splendid fellow he is. We know that that is not the position in Kosovo. Every small grain of dissent outside Serbia against NATO's action is magnified to the point at which it is said that every capital in western Europe is up in arms against their Governments. We should recognise that and we should realise that words in this Chamber are heard and used elsewhere in a way that I am sure that no Member of the House would wish.
I do not believe that there is any longer a Kosovo solution. We must grasp for a wider solution and I believe that it will involve the use of ground troops. I beg the Government not to rule that out, and I hope that it will happen sooner rather than later. What I have seen in the camps makes me believe that the situation is untenable and will remain so for a long time.
We have heard moving accounts from several hon. Members who have visited the refugee camps, including the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). I agree with the military action and I have made my views clear on previous occasions in the House. However, I understand the wish for a vote. After all, it is not a secret outside the House of Commons that there are those who disagree. My view is that if a vote were taken—and on such an issue, we should have a vote—we would see an overwhelming majority in favour of the action that NATO is taking.
Some of the criticism that is being made of reporting from Belgrade—apparently not by Ministers but by other sources—is misguided. The truth should be told. If certain feelings in Belgrade exist, as reported by John Simpson and other correspondents, let us know. Likewise, when a terrible mistake was made last week when the very people whom NATO were trying to save were killed, no one, not even Serbia, has since suggested that that was a deliberate killing. If such mistakes are made, with such terrible consequences, it is better that the truth be told, and as quickly as possible. If we have a just cause, that is all the more reason for the truth to be told.
If this debate were taking place last year, many of the critics would tell us that the action led by the United States was taken because President Clinton was trying to hold on to his job. We heard that argument on several occasions during the crisis over Iraq. That argument will not wash today, because the US President does not fear for his job. If there were some sinister conspiracy by the US to engage in military action for dubious reasons, why did it take the lead role in bringing about the Dayton agreement that ended the conflict in Bosnia? Was not bombing one of the factors that made that agreement possible?
If the Serbian leadership had shown serious interest in the talks in France earlier this year, even if they did not agree with every point, the military action would not have taken place, because it would not have been necessary. As I understand it, none of the critics here disputes the terrible crimes that have been committed by Serbian forces in Kosovo, such as the rapes, the murders and the ethnic cleansing that is a disgrace to Europe. In January, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a statement on the cold-blooded murder of 45 ethnic Albanians, committed for no other reason than their ethnic origin. I asked at the time whether Muslim blood was of such little concern that we should not take action to try to prevent further crimes and atrocities. Having said that, I am hardly in a position to criticise what is now being done.
I accept that Britain's interests were not directly threatened by what was taking place in Kosovo and that our safety and security were not in danger as a result of actions there. However, one could have made the same argument about the Gulf in 1990. Indeed, it was made by the critics, including Enoch Powell in an article in The Daily Telegraph in August 1990. He argued that the invasion of Kuwait was not a matter for Britain to intervene in. That argument could also have been made in 1939. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark)—I gave him notice that I intended to mention him—takes the view that we should not have gone to war in 1939 and, having done so, we should have negotiated for peace a year later. That is his view, and it is in the public domain.
I listened today with interest to the passionate outbursts against what is being done, but I remember the same passionate remarks—by Labour Members, if not by Conservative Members —being made against the action in the Falklands following the invasion. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) denounced that action on every possible occasion, but events have demonstrated that Britain was right to liberate the Falklands. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow and for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) were in full cry against the liberation of Kuwait and Britain's involvement with the allies. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield has argued that the action in Kosovo was not authorised by the United Nations, but when the UN authorised the liberation of Kuwait, he still opposed it. I do not criticise him for that, because he had every right to oppose it. I do not criticise any of those who criticise the action in Kosovo — this is a free Parliament—but we should be clear about the background of the past 10 years of some of those who are so passionately against it.
Although Britain's interest was not directly involved, it would have been wrong and dishonourable for the allies to stand aside and allow the ethnic cleansing to continue unhindered. We know what is being done. I have mentioned the deliberate murder of 45 ethnic Albanians, but that is only one of many crimes that were committed. As for the argument that the bombing has made the position worse, one could also say that about 1939. Hitler warned in the Reichstag that if the Jews were responsible for a new world war—the very war that he was planning to the last detail—they would pay the consequences. Are we in Britain to be taken to task for what happened to the Jews? We know full well where the responsibility lies. What is happening now in Kosovo—the continued ethnic cleansing, the way that the people have been forced to flea in terror—is not Britain's fault or NATO's fault: it is the consequence of the actions by Milosevic and his thugs. Let us put the responsibility where it belongs.
I accept that the use of ground forces poses many problems. We should have the greatest reservation about sending in an armed force to fight its way into Kosovo. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) spoke about the pride of the Serbs and the fact that they will not give in to bombing. If they will not give in to bombing, it is not likely that there will be an easy way into Kosovo. The dangers include the widening of the war and having to fight in Serbia itself. I do not rule that out, but I hope that it will not be necessary. However, if the Serbian leadership refuse even to consider any of the peace plans, like the one suggested by Germany last week, then clearly an invasion on the ground becomes more likely. The British Government and other allied Governments criticised aspects of that plan, but the way in which Milosevic and his colleagues rejected it suggested that Belgrade in no way seeks a solution to the problem.
What is our basic minimum? What do we want? First, all refugees should be able to return to Kosovo: that is not asking too much. They should be able to return in safety, and that requires international military force. Whether that force is led by NATO or someone else is open to negotiation.
Ethnic groups have been mentioned, so I should make clear my concern for the safety of all ethnic groups in Kosovo—majority and minority, including the Serbs. I am not anti-Serb, and nor, I believe, are any of my hon. Friends.
Russia, in particular, and Greece can play important roles in trying to bring about an agreement that can end the bombing, allow refugees to return and result in a settlement. A settlement was on offer in France two months ago, and the bombing could have been avoided. I hope that such an agreement may be reached in the very near future.
When one sees the mediaeval horrors of what is happening in Kosovo, it is natural to say that something must be done. However, the purpose of foreign policy is to protect and promote the interests of the United Kingdom. We should, of course, desire a peaceful and prosperous world, but we must remember that basic principle.
In pursuing that purpose, the main plank of our defence policy for 50 years has been membership of NATO. As a member of the NATO parliamentary assembly, I have come into contact with Russian members of the Duma, and I have studied NATO's strategy within the context of European peace. The American senator, Sam Nunn, said that Russian co-operation in avoiding proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was our most important national security objective. We are causing stress in our relationship with Russia by expanding NATO with three new member countries. As Sam Nunn said, expansion makes Russia more suspicious and less co-operative.
The end of the cold war may have allowed us to become complacent about our relationship with Russia, but we should never forget the pivotal role of that huge and influential country. Russia is internally confused. The collapse of the Warsaw pact and the exposure of the fallacy of communism mean that Russian communists have lost their sense of purpose and direction. It is as if Italy and Rome had been told that God did not exist and that the pope had been abolished. The Russians are confused by the seismic shocks running through their society.
Where once we thought about the balance of power between the Warsaw pact and NATO, it may be more appropriate to think now of the balance of power within Russia. In planning our diplomatic strategy, we should avoid acts that cause destabilisation in Russia.
I went to Moscow last month for a meeting of a joint committee of seven NATO parliamentarians and seven Russian parliamentarians, which monitors the actions of the permanent joint council of the Founding Act of May 1997, which is intended to promote better co-operation, harmony and understanding between NATO and Russia. Before the NATO attacks in Kosovo, the relationship was friendly and harmonious, although Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were about to join NATO. The Russian parliamentarians expressed concerns about troop increases in NATO, and we reassured them, pointing out that no nuclear weapons and no substantial conventional forces would be taken into the territory of the new member countries.
Above all, however, the Russian parliamentarians expressed serious concern that NATO might, in the new strategic concept due to be unveiled in a week's time, take it on itself to intervene in sovereign nations and out of area. At that time, NATO parliamentarians were able to stress—as we always had—that NATO was a defensive alliance.
Article 51 of the United Nations charter specifies the inherent right of all countries to self defence. Military action can be justified if another nation develops weapons of mass destruction, as Iraq did, or is known to plot hostile intent, as Libya did. Article 51 could justify the attacks on those two countries. However, in the fuzzy world of international diplomacy, the normal rule must be respect for national borders. If we lose that pole star, all is lost.
NATO's action in Kosovo could not have been more well-meaning, unselfish or well-intended, but the results have been unexpected, and we are entitled to ask some hard questions. Under what head of international law were the NATO attacks on Serbia undertaken? Does that international authority cover air strikes against Serbia, or against the rest of Yugoslavia? One felt a sense of shock to hear that Montenegro, a neutral country, had been attacked.
Does the authority of international law cover all other possible military action? In deciding what action to take against Serbia, what view was taken of Russia's relationship with Serbia? To what extent was Russia consulted? To what extent did NATO take account of the reaction of Russia's Government, and of the internal reaction and its effect on the balance of power, authority and influence in Russia? It has perhaps strengthened the views and influence of hardliners, and weakened the influence of more progressive Russians.
To what extent was it anticipated that NATO action in Kosovo would disrupt co-operation between NATO and Russia under the Founding Act and "Partnership for Peace"? Certainly, co-operation has been disrupted.
I also have some more narrowly focused questions. Were the Government advised that air power, and air power alone, would achieve the objective of preventing ethnic cleansing and restoring harmony? I know that matters have moved on since I was a RAF pilot who, in a later manifestation, shot down another RAF aeroplane, but "clinical" and "bombing" are not words that sit easily together.
From my experience, drawn from four visits to Bosnia, I must point out that peacekeeping failed in Bosnia. The British troops in Vitez had to hunker down in barracks while Muslims and Croats fought all around them. UNPROFOR's peacekeeping failed. Only when a much larger stabilisation force, with American backing, went into Bosnia was peace imposed—not restored.
Unless agreement is reached with all concerned, we cannot imagine that a force going into Kosovo will be welcomed. In that extraordinary terrain, two men can hold up a regiment. It would take thousand upon thousand of men to impose peace in Kosovo. Without agreement, there would be many casualties, and for what?
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said earlier that the Government must be honest and open about their expectations. They must indeed be clear about their objectives, the manner of their implementation and the demands that will be placed on our armed forces if we contemplate action on the ground.
Commentators have repeatedly made the point that the credibility of NATO is at stake in Kosovo. I maintain that that is not so in respect of the main issue. Article 5 of the Washington treaty says that members of NATO will join together in self defence, defending each other against attack. That is not in dispute in any way.
What is a matter of contention, rightly, is that NATO is acting out of area with an ill-conceived strategy. We must move under the umbrella of the United Nations with the largest possible active Russian involvement.
As a former chairman of the Britain-Albania Society and as one of the two people responsible for persuading the former National Heritage Secretary, Mr. David Mellor, to return Albania's stolen gold, I am second to no one in the House in my love for, and concern for the fate of, the Albanians. Neither am I a pacifist. Indeed, I would be ready to go five rounds with practically any hon. Member. There are a few with whom I would quite like to go five rounds. I hope that my views of the campaign will not be attributed to an animus against the Albanians or to spineless pacifism. As a former member of the Army Cadet Force Royal Artillery Battery 2, I could not credibly be accused of that.
On Saturday afternoon, a bomb went off in the centre of a European capital city, creating havoc and chaos. It brought traffic to a standstill. Hundreds if not thousands of people ran from the scene in terror. Sharp pieces of steel penetrated the bodies and the eyes of innocent civilian bystanders. It was, of course, not in Novi Sad or in Belgrade but in Brixton. It traumatised practically all London and scandalised the readers of Sunday morning newspapers.
That was the effect of one crude home-made bomb in Brixton. The same evening, NATO flew 500 sorties against targets in Yugoslavia. I, along with few others in the House, have had the experience of being under aerial bombardment. With the distinguished war correspondent, Desmond Hammill, I lay with my face pressed to the earth in Eritrea, being bombed from on high by Russian aircraft of the Ethiopian air force.
The terror that I experienced was indescribable. Slices of razor sharp steel and fragmentation —they were fragmentation bombs of exactly the kind that we are dropping in Yugoslavia —tore alive the people who were around me, and I literally ate the earth to try to make myself a smaller target. Others were not as lucky as me, and Desmond Hammill was able to take some award-winning pictures of some of the casualties.
The purposes for which the Ethiopian air force was dropping those bombs were different from NATO's purposes: the Ethiopians were aiming for civilians, and we are not. I have no complaints about the conduct of our Defence Ministers and certainly none about the conduct of British forces in the action. From everything that I have heard, they have behaved with precision and professionalism. My case is that the massive failure is in foreign, not defence policy.
Neither the Eritreans nor the people of Brixton would remotely consider capitulating to the demands of those doing the bombing. The Eritreans did not and the people of Brixton will not. It does not matter how often we escalate the demands. Some hon. Members may have missed the point, but the war aims were deliberately escalated this afternoon, and the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, de facto and de jure, is now being demanded.
Anyone who thinks that the Serbian Government or, still less, the Serbian people and armed forces will voluntarily succumb to such dismemberment knows nothing about history or about the region. Even if, after a bloody invasion and wading through casualties on both sides, Kosovo is severed from Yugoslavia by force, that will be only the beginning of the problem. We will have engendered a depth of bitterness and hatred among a fighting people—the Serbs—that will haunt us for many years.
Everyone has seen the terrible suffering of the Albanian refugees being driven from their homes—yes, by ethnic cleansing enforced by paramilitary thugs and by police and soldiers and, yes, by fear of bombardment—but we have not heard much today about the civil war as a reason for refugees being on the move.
I have heard several odd references to the KLA this afternoon. Is the House aware that last year the KLA was on the US State Department's list of terrorist organisations? It was accused by the US Government of being bankrolled by the proceeds of the heroin trade and loans from characters such as Osama bin Laden. That was said in the Washington Post.
When did the KLA cease to be a terrorist organisation and become a partner for which we were ready to go to war? The reality is that the Serbs are not involved in some irrational, maniacal persecution of Albanians. Charles Krauthammer, again in the Washington Post, said:
The reason for the killing in Kosovo is not mindless ethnic hatred but quite rational power politics. There is a guerrilla army of Kosovar Albanians who want independence and are willing to kill to achieve it. And there is a Serb army that wants to keep Kosovo in Yugoslavia and preserve the sovereignty of the state. And it is willing to kill for that.
That was the Government's perspective until a few short months ago. I believe that our failure has been to get carried away in the flood of rhetoric. This wickedness in Kosovo is appalling, but it is not the holocaust. Milosevic is a brute, but he is not Hitler. This is an appalling problem, but it is not the second world war. As the now much maligned correspondent, John Simpson, said in his admirable memoirs, which I read only last weekend, if we persist in treating conflicts as though they were Armageddon, we run the risk of getting in over our heads. That is what we have begun to do, especially with the escalation of our war aims this afternoon.
Let me say to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that it serves no one's interest to become so carried away that one resorts to hoax and to first world war-style propaganda. We warned him of that in relation to his boy prisoner story in Iraq, which turned out to be a canard. Addressing megaphone insults at the Government of Yugoslavia, with whom we will eventually have to deal, and insulting the family of the President—wrongly, as it turns out, if one reads the letter from Mrs. Milosevic to the Foreign Secretary published in the newspaper—
I found her reply persuasive, even if my hon. Friend prefers the Foreign Secretary's version. I thought that Mrs. Milosevic's letter had a certain dignity.
The reality is that Milosevic has the overwhelming support of the Yugoslavian people and we will have to deal with the Government of Yugoslavia if we are to bring the conflict to an end. Addressing insults through megaphones, criminalising people and threatening them with trials is not the way forward.
This grim crisis has made us all realise that the Government's long honeymoon is finally over. We all imagined that destiny would at some time intervene but no one in their worst dreams could have envisaged a destiny as grim as the conflict which has beset Kosovo and threatens to engulf the region. How I wish that our deliberations were illuminated by people of the character and knowledge of Julian Amery and Billy McLean for Albania, Fitzroy Maclean for Yugoslavia, and Monty Woodhouse and Carol Mather for Greece. Unlike theirs, our generation is unused to war, and many have not comprehended the totally determinant effect that it can have on human affairs, nor have they prepared sufficiently for it.
At the beginning of the crisis way back in October, I asked the Foreign Secretary two questions. The first was whose side are we on. Mr. Milosevic has now answered that. Secondly, I asked whether the ultimate solution to the problem of Kosovo was not to be found in self-determination for its people. The Government resolutely turned their face against that option. It is in the tradition of the Foreign Office to do so, and to recognise existing boundaries, but self-determination is often the right solution. It was right when the Soviet Union broke up and its constituent republics became free again. It is what sustains our position in Northern Ireland and our sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. In short, it accords with our democratic tradition, and in Kosovo it accords with the ethnic reality on the ground.
The tragedy is that the pain and grief that we see on our television screens are the consequence of weakness. We must always remember that the consequence of weakness is usually suffering. Both militarily and diplomatically, we have been weak. Our bluff was finally called. The phoney war is over, though at home people might not believe it because the war which we see on our screens is of the sort that people play in amusement arcades. As those who have experience of war know, this is quite different, and painful in human blood and suffering.
This is not a phoney war. I use the word "war" advisedly although the Foreign Secretary does not like it. It is certainly a war for the people of Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia and for the aircrew of the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, who have now joined the conflict. Day after day, night after night, often in appalling weather and difficult conditions, they go out to prosecute the combat, seeking out difficult targets in difficult circumstances. If it is not war, we are prejudicing the treatment of our aircrew if they have to bale out over what we know to be enemy territories because they would be regarded as common criminals and would not enjoy the safeguards of the Geneva convention. We should strip away the illusions.
Once our country is engaged upon war, there is only one acceptable outcome, and that is victory. We must see it through to the end whatever it may take. The consequences of failure are too dire for the people of Kosovo, who have suffered enough already; for the neighbouring nations and states; and for our alliance, because other dictators and aggressors will take it to heart that our alliance is not prepared to stand up for its rights and for the liberties of its citizens, and ultimately has not the strength and courage to win.
The air offensive is crucial at every stage of the conflict. First, it has to secure the air superiority without which nothing can be achieved on the ground. Secondly, it has to isolate the Kosovo battlefield and conduct a strategic effort to degrade the Serbian war machine and economy and take out its fuel supplies and transport, communications, command and control systems.
There is also a tactical air campaign to be won. This is perhaps even more difficult. It is mainly in Kosovo, against Serbian armour, transport, communications, troop concentrations and headquarters facilities. Such targets are difficult to locate and for air crews are extremely professionally challenging. The key will be the will to sustain those operations and maintain the offensive.
The United States, to its credit, is calling up its air reserves. I wish that we had more. The Opposition have argued for them for long enough. I wish that we had the strategic airlift capacity of the C-17s promised in the defence review but not yet ordered. They could have enabled us to take main battle tanks and heavy armour to the theatre in hours rather than weeks, but we have to fight with what we have got.
In my judgment, I perhaps differ from other hon. Members, but the best people to fight are the Kosovans themselves. It is their land that will be liberated. They know that, and they have the will. They want to see it through to regain possession of their homelands and get their families settled in peace. The history of Balkan conflict has always involved assisting people who, ethically speaking, may seem to us, in the cosiness of our armchairs, not ideal; but the Kosovo Liberation Army is the only force available to do the job. It needs to be trained, supplied and given intelligence support and all the backing that we can provide. We have the expertise to do so, and we should use it to the full.
Now that we have engaged in this war, we cannot fail. If we did fail, the consequences for our alliance and armed forces would be awful beyond measure. We have not faced such a challenge for a generation. We do not want another Suez or Dunkirk. We want the alliance to work as it was intended to, as a coalition of free, democratic nations working for a humanitarian purpose but also to create a peace that can be sustained in the longer term. This can be done only if dictators are shown not to win and if we can restore democratic principles based on self-determination to areas such as Kosovo where they have been so violently taken from the people.
I add my name to the list of Members on both sides of the House who support the military intervention in Kosovo. I say that without banging war drums, without any self-righteousness, and also without feeling any contradiction between that view and being a man of the left; however, I say it with a sense of great fear and terrible anxiety— the fear and anxiety that I felt on hearing news of murders in Vukovar, Srebrenica and Racak. I believe that it is right that we are directly involved in the terrible events that are happening in Kosovo.
I do not believe that we are engaged in an act of war against Serbia; nor do I believe that the bombing of military targets and installations in Serbian Kosovo can in itself be described as a humanitarian act. However, having the capacity to act in the face of such butchery, we are right to do so. We are right to do all that we can to stop the killing in Kosovo; we are right to take a stand.
Historical parallels are dangerous at the best of times, and no more so than in the context of the current conflict in the Balkans. However, for those who claim that the current intervention must be justified, despite the obvious fact of the killings, perhaps we can cast the moral dilemma in this way. We knew that Hitler was rounding up the Jews, placing them in camps and murdering them. We knew that, to do that, he was taking them to the camps by train. Would it not have been right to try to destroy by aerial bombardment the railway lines that led to those camps? Could a moral case be made today for not taking such action? I believe not only that it is right to act in such circumstances, but that we have a duty to act. Moreover, the people of Kosovo have the right to expect NATO to act in order to save and protect them, and those acting on behalf of NATO in the field are entitled to expect and receive the support of this House.
The questions that we must ask are not so much to do with why we are in Kosovo; I believe that we know why we are in Kosovo. Tonight, we must ask how far the Kosovan people can expect NATO to go in attempting to protect them. What are the limits that we, as a nation, should set in pursuit of our objectives? We know that those objectives now include the determination not only to stop the killing of Kosovar people, but to return the people of Kosovo to their homes.
A further fact becomes clearer every day: that without ground forces in addition to air strikes we cannot stop the killing. How are we to stop the killing when small groups of Serb militia go from house to house murdering and mutilating people, armed not only with Kalashnikovs but with pistols and pocket knives, and hunt down refugees in the countryside? By means of aerial bombardment, how are we to stop the systematic rape of Kosovo women? Partitioning Kosovo is perhaps an objective of Milosevic but cannot become the aim of NATO. How are we to drive Milosevic's troops and militia from the territory without the intervention of troops on the ground? If we decide to send in troops, in what circumstances shall we do so and at what human cost?
We have not found answers to those questions in today's debate, but we must at least raise the issues that may be relevant to finding answers. First, if we do not take the next step, there is a real and present danger that the killing will simply go on and on. There were 100,000 lives lost in Croatia and 250,000 were lost in Bosnia. How many hundreds of thousands of lives must be lost in Kosovo before we decide that it is no longer possible for us, on moral, pragmatic or any other grounds, to hold back the troops?
Secondly, it is now clear that Milosevic's aim is to expel the Kosovan Albanian population—90 per cent. of the total population—from the territory of Kosovo. Not to send in ground troops will be to allow that to continue. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is right to say that the relatively fortunate people who escape across the border into Albania or Macedonia do not blame their exile on NATO. Milosevic tells the refugees, "Go to NATO, they will help you," and we would do well to heed those words. However, protecting and caring for the displaced—almost the entire population of Kosovo—whether in the neighbouring countries or in our own countries, represents a massive challenge not only to our military strength but to the resourcefulness of our entire civic societies. If there are no troops, it means that we will have taken on the responsibility of caring for the Kosovan refugees of the diaspora—perhaps for many years to come.
Thirdly, the conflict in Kosovo is not only a conflict between different ethnic groups or a battle of wills between a murderous psychopath with a monopoly of power and the rest of our civilised world; in a fundamental way, the conflict in Kosovo is about ourselves, our values and the world that we have built up around us in Europe since the second world war. Milosevic's actions stand in direct contradiction to the values of freedom, equality and justice that we have built into our systems of domestic legislation and into the conduct of international relations in the modern world and which have so often inspired the left. On the threshold of the 20th century, can we allow one man on the borders of Europe to take the decision about who should live and who should die? We should not believe that we can fail in our attempt to stand up to Milosevic and break his monopoly of power and wake up to find ourselves in the same world as before.
During the past 12 months, we have incorporated the European convention on human rights into British law and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations universal declaration of human rights. At the end of this week, we shall celebrate the 50th anniversary of NATO—an organisation whose birth was induced by the determination of western powers never again to allow the ravages of fascism.
That is why we must take all necessary steps to stop Milosevic. Not to do so would be to pay too high a price, in terms not only of the Kosovan people, but of the universal values on which we have built our modern world. We must stand up to Milosevic. His actions threaten to deny post-war peace and stability in Europe; they contradict and take away the contemporary relevance of those universal values and deny their validity in the future, not only in Kosovo and in Europe, but throughout the modern world.
We have heard some excellent, varied and interesting contributions today, and many points have been made that I do not intend to reiterate. However, I hope to make some points that have not yet been made and to ask some questions to which all our constituents would like to understand the answers.
The Foreign Secretary said that we are not at war. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) said that that was nonsense and of course it was; if we are invading people's territory from the air, dropping bombs on people and killing them, surely that is war. If we do not think that we are at war, how can we talk about war crimes and trying people for war crimes? The Pentagon is the biggest player in this war, and one of its press releases states that the Yugoslav soldier who is being held
is being treated as a prisoner of war (POW), and has been afforded rights as a POW under the provisions of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949.
Of course, that is relevant only if we are at war.
In 1991, when we went to war in the Gulf, I volunteered to rejoin the Army because I considered the cause to be just. I could see clear national interests, and clear political and military objectives. This time, our national interests are not in play; I think that everyone would accept that. However, I accept that there may be a humanitarian justification for going to war that does not involve our national interests. I could also see that in the cases of Rwanda, Tibet and Chechnya. I accept that there is a just cause that may require our intervention. However, I do not accept that there are clear military or political objectives. If there are, perhaps someone can explain them. I have heard them mentioned, but they have changed a great deal. The Prime Minister said that we were bombing Serbia to prevent a humanitarian disaster. That did not seem to work. Was it to prevent ethnic cleansing—an admirable aim? If it was, that does not seem to have worked. Was it to establish peace in the Balkans? If it was, that does not seem to have worked. Was it the perfectly fair aim of undermining the Milosevic regime—a pretty ghastly regime? If it was, according to John Simpson, it appears to have had the opposite effect.
Today, we read in The Daily Telegraph that the Prime Minister says that Milosevic must go. If that is the case, it is perfectly fair. However, if we have a clear, achievable aim, we must know how we should achieve it. Of course we all agree that we should never have started here, but, after more than a year of what appears to be failed diplomacy—indeed some suggested nine years of failed diplomacy—threats that have been made but not fulfilled and bluffs that have been called, it appears to me that we are at war. Where will it lead? I do not give the answers: I am only posing questions, but where next?
If the war is to continue, we must be pursuing clear and achievable political and military objectives. Various people have pointed out that logic dictates that we shall have to employ ground troops. I do not want to do that and I know that President Clinton and the Prime Minister do not want to do so either, but that must be where the logic leads. Unfortunately, the biggest player on our side in this war is the United States. President Clinton has said that he will not employ ground troops and he means it, because he remembers Vietnam and knows how many troops might be sucked into an action in the Balkans. Therefore, I regret to say that ground troops might not be an option.
It is the business of the House to ask questions and, last week, I asked the Deputy Prime Minister a question. I quoted his own words back at him—namely, that the demands were reasonable, being, among other things, an autonomous Kosovo within Serbia. His response was that I should wind my neck in, lest I
undermine the clear aims that have been set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister." —[Official Report, 14 April 1999; Vol. 329, c. 219.]
However, the aims are not clear: they are not clear to me, or to friends and former colleagues in the armed forces to whom I have spoken. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) asked why Kosovo should not be given autonomy if that is what is needed, but it is not up to us to determine who rules Kosovo.
It is up to the people of Kosovo to determine who rules Kosovo, be they of Albanian or Serb extraction.
We must ask questions, not to undermine the armed forces, but to ensure that the United Kingdom Government pursue the right policies. There is a paradox in this war, in that former soldiers such as myself, who are occasionally accused of being somewhat bellicose, are asking the questions and expressing concern, whereas old CND hands such as the Prime Minister appear to be enthusiastic in their pursuit of war. I do not say that to score a cheap point—it is important. People who have denied the capacity of war ever to bring about a just solution are now pursuing war. People like me, who know a little about war, have questions that should be answered and it is not in any sense unpatriotic to ask those questions.
One of the questions I want to ask is about allies. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) and others have talked about the KLA. I am sure that the KLA contains many Kosovar Albanian patriots, but it has a pretty dodgy record. The Foreign Secretary speaks about restoring democracy in Kosovo, but it seems to me that there has never been any democracy in Kosovo and, furthermore, the KLA is not a democratic organisation.
What other suitable allies are there? I am not sure whether Albania is a suitable ally in the pursuit of human rights and humanitarian causes; and the Tudjman regime in Croatia is, in the opinion of many, as bad as the Milosevic regime in Serbia. Does anyone remember Vitez, which was mentioned earlier? Does anyone remember the beautiful bridge in Mostar that was destroyed by Croatians who fought the Bosnian Muslims and ethnically cleansed them from the west bank of the river? Does anyone remember how, in Krajina, more than a quarter of a million Serbs were ethnically cleansed? It is interesting to note that arms and training were supplied to the Croatian forces by the United States.
That brings us to Clinton. I do not know enough about domestic politics in America to criticise President Clinton, but I shall quote what an American said to me two weeks ago. He said, "I can understand why President Clinton is doing this—it is to establish himself as a war leader after his domestic problems." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh.] I am only quoting what was said to me by an American, who then asked me, "Why is Mr. Blair doing it?"
The action we are taking is US-led, but it appears to me that the US Government do not fully understand what they are doing in the Balkans, and nor does President Clinton have much idea what he is doing. Various articles in the American press have pointed that out. I regret to say that the Prime Minister appears to be following, without questioning as he should. Neither the United States, nor Her Majesty's Government—exemplified by the Foreign Secretary's performance today—know what they are doing; nor do they know what exactly they are trying to achieve. We need to state our clear objectives and pursue them single-mindedly until they are achieved. Even though I might not agree, if those clear objectives included invading Kosovo, fair enough.
In closing, I should like to quote Bismarck. Writing about 100 years ago, he said,
If there is ever another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans.
I do not say that a million people being cleared from Kosovo is a "damned silly thing", but Bismarck was right in 1914 and, regrettably, the Balkans have not changed much in the past century. We need to be careful and clear about our aims as we continue down the path that we have chosen.
I wanted to speak in this debate, not only because I feel strongly about the subject, but because, for the past eight years, I have watched refugees come to Hammersmith and Ealing from all parts of the former Yugoslavia. I have called for us to act before, as have hon. Members on both sides of the House, and, if we are in a mess today, it is partly because we did not act more effectively earlier.
There were 1 million refugees from the former Yugoslavia in Europe before Kosovo was even thought about. I have met people at my surgeries and visited hostels in my area to see the damage inflicted on those individuals. One can pretend, as one or two hon. Members have chosen to do today, that the horrors that are occurring are not quite as bad as has been reported. One can try to tell the woman who was raped several times that she was not really raped, or that she was not really told that she could now have a good Serb baby—although why a woman who has been raped should have a Serb baby and not a mixed-race baby is beyond my understanding. That is the reality and, when we talk to ethnic Albanians or see them on the television screen, we know what the war is about.
Some people have said that the situation in Kosovo is not the same as in Germany between 1939 and 1945. Some people have said that Milosevic is not Hitler. In a simple sense, they are right, but let me tell them this: the meaning behind the phrases "racial purity" and "Greater Germany" now trades under the guise of "ethnic cleansing" and "Greater Serbia". The fact that President Milosevic is now doing the ethnic cleansing faster does not mean that he was not doing it before. Ethnic cleansing done slowly is no better than ethnic cleansing done quickly. Some of the people who now wring their hands at what they see on the television set did not wring their hands enough when it was happening out of sight of the television camera, which is why they feel discomfited about what is happening now. We are not doing the best we can in the circumstances; we are taking the least worst option. That is what this action is about. We cannot afford to let evil triumph.
I did not expect this action to be quick, easy or clean, but I did expect the Serbs to become more nationalistic. Part of the problem of Serbia is that it is locked into Balkan history, whereby history is not learned, but relived. We have seen the same problem, on a far smaller scale, in Northern Ireland, where people prefer to relive their history rather than to learn from it. People say that we shall never change the Balkans and that the people there will go on killing each other, but I remember the same sort of thing being said to me back in 1979, when I became involved in the politics of Northern Ireland. I was told, "Don't bother, Clive. They'll always go on killing each other, because it's the only language they understand." Well, we did get involved in Northern Ireland and we did something about it, and we need to do something about Kosovo now, because the situation is unacceptable.
What are the alternatives? The hon. Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) put his finger on the one option that might work in the short term, which is to arm and train the Albanians. Such action worked once before, when we armed and trained the Croats. That was done at terrible cost to Serbia, for it produced several hundred thousand Serbian refugees, many of whom were raped—and, yes, I agree that Tudjman ought to be tried as a war criminal. That solution worked in respect of the Croats and it might work in Kosovo. However, we must think through the consequences. It would make Greece very vulnerable, and we all know that Greece would not allow the development of a Greater Albania in those terms. It is in our national interest to sort out this mess.
Several of my hon. Friends claim that we should talk some more; we have been talking for eight years. They say that we must bring in the United Nations; but we have done that. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is not in the Chamber. He said that we can forget or not hear things. Have people forgotten that the United Nations was involved? Have they forgotten the photograph of the soldier from Ghana who was chained to a post with his rifle taken from him? Do they remember the Canadian, British and Swedish troops who were locked up?
Of course Milosevic wants the United Nations involved again. However, we have learned that the United Nations—which I dearly love and want to see successful—cannot succeed unless it is reformed to deal with this sort of crisis. The reality is that we need a clear and enforceable military strategy. If I thought that the United Nations was a real option, I would go down that road like a shot.
I accept that some form of land occupation may be necessary. I am not sure whether that is the complete picture or only part of it—we are all at a disadvantage in this regard, because the matter requires military planning. Some form of land involvement—ideally, it would have the co-operation or at least the acceptance of the Milosevic Government—would be the best option. However, there are other alternatives which I hope are being explored.
Russia's role is crucial. Russia has moved on from its initial reaction of shock and horror and become more involved in the crisis. It recognises that it is part of the solution. It is in our interests to ensure that Russia is involved, because we do not want nationalism to develop in that country or to see it withdraw support from the new world order which has emerged following the collapse of the cold war. Russia needs to adopt some concept of international law that prohibits activities such as ethnic cleansing. After all, the Russian people suffered, perhaps more than any other peoples, as a result of ethnic cleansing in the 1940s.
We must assure the Russians that we are not against the Serbs. I have more Serbs in my constituency than probably any other hon. Member. I have talked to my Serb constituents — who have become more nationalistic—and told them over and over again that I admire those Germans, such as Willy Brandt, who stood up and said, "My country is wrong." Such people could hold their heads up high, and I want my Serb constituents to do the same.
Some Serbs think it is terrible that Britain should attack them when we helped them fight the Germans in the second world war. I tell them that we fought the Germans not because they were Germans, but because they were in the grip of a regime that was into ethnic cleansing with a vengeance. We supported the Serbs because they were the victims of that policy. The boot is now on the other foot and we are on different sides in this dispute.
We must recognise that we are moving into a different world. This war is not about oil or any of the other issues that have been alleged from time to time: it is an humanitarian war. The world is not prepared to live in the 21st century according to the appalling standards of the 20th century. Some of my colleagues have said that we should put Pinochet and others on trial and whip them away. I want that, too. However, I want also to deal with this situation because the 21st century must not be dominated by tinpot dictators such as Milosevic. We must prevent such people from gaining power and, if they are in power, we must use whatever measures are at our disposal to remove them. Ultimately, they must be put on trial. There must be no double standards in this respect.
Some people have suggested that a double standard operates because NATO is not bombing Turkey because of the Kurds or China because of Tibet. During a period of rapid and dramatic change, there are bound to be double standards. I urge people to visit Westminster Hall and to look at the plaques in the floor. They should read about that period which was a watershed in political history not just in Britain, but in Europe and the rest of the world. Of course, there were double standards in those trials, but a concept of the rule of law was evolving separate from politics. That is our challenge for the 21st century and that is why the United Nations must be reformed.
We are obviously at war on one level and some hon. Members have complained this afternoon that we have not said so. I understand why we choose not to say that we are at war: it benefits both the Serbs and us if our ambassadors remain in each country. We must keep the channels of communication open. However, if one is on the receiving end, it is a war by any definition.
Following the cold war, different behaviour has emerged whereby groups and regions have tried to sort out particular problems, leading to inconsistencies and double standards. However, I know where I stand when I talk to people who have been involved in such disputes for eight years —which is two to three years longer than the duration of the second world war. I am on their side—and some of them are Serbs. We must understand that crucial point. There is nothing in Serbian culture or history—
We have just heard an emotional and powerful speech from the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley). However, I fear that it—and particularly his remarks about the actions and aims of the United Nations protection force —is based on rather woolly thinking. UNPROFOR had to meet limited political objectives using limited military resources. Ministers have been victims of the same emotional, woolly thinking that the hon. Gentleman has demonstrated.
We are in a mess, as are our international allies. Like every hon. Member, I want us to extricate ourselves successfully from this mess with NATO intact, and I support the fulfilment of the Government's objectives. However, we cannot escape the fact that the past four weeks have been an unmitigated disaster. In the words of a previous Foreign Secretary, the results of the air strikes have been "appalling". We knew what the consequences of our actions would be. On 25 January, the Italian Prime Minister warned the Secretary-General of NATO that, if air strikes were carried out in isolation, Italy would face a flood of Albanian refugees.
British Ministers told us that Milosevic was ready either to begin a spring campaign of ethnic cleansing or to take advantage of NATO air strikes. That offensive started after the monitors left, and they left because we intended to commence air strikes. That suggests that Milosevic took advantage of NATO's plans. Nothing can gainsay the conclusion that we knew what would happen when the air strikes began.
The Prime Minister came to the House before the bombing started and told us that our objectives were to prevent a humanitarian disaster from occurring, to contain the conflict and to make good our promises to the Kosovar people. The Secretary of State for Defence will remember describing to the Select Committee on Defence the military strategy to fulfil those objectives. He said:
Our military objective—our clear, simple, military objective—will be to reduce the Serbs' capability to repress the Albanian population and thus to avert a humanitarian disaster.
I simply do not understand how he can have said that. The result has not been a humanitarian disaster; it has been a catastrophe.
The objective of containment has not been met. There are crises in Macedonia, Greece and Albania. The consequences are evident here, too. On Friday, I spent a mere two hours on the parliamentary police scheme with a police patrol on the Mll and I saw four Albanian refugees escorted from the back of a lorry. I then met a constituent at my parliamentary surgery that evening who had seen six Kosovar refugees getting out of a lorry. Clearly, the situation affects us as it affects the whole of Europe.
It is specious, to say the least, of the Foreign Secretary to hide behind the Kosovars' wish for the NATO bombing campaign to continue. Every Kosovar whom I have met wants a ground intervention. That view was unanimously endorsed at a meeting of Kosovars and others that I attended in the Grand Committee Room before Easter. The Kosovars want NATO to win, as I do, but how did we allow ourselves to pursue a military strategy that has so far fallen so disastrously short of achieving its objectives?
No, I do not have much time.
The sad truth is that the consequences of our military action were predicted and predictable. The Defence Secretary has made it clear that he was acting on the advice of the Chief of the Defence Staff, who has enthusiastically made the case for the current strategy in articles and at daily press conferences. However, I have not found a serious analyst who believes that our military strategy will achieve its original aim. It was an irresponsible gamble, with horrendous, immediate humanitarian consequences for the Kosovar people. There has been a dreadful failure in the political-military relationship in this country and in NATO as a whole. The failure in Britain is particularly unfortunate.
The Clinton White House has attempted such a strategy before against the Pentagon's advice, as it has on this occasion against the advice of General Shelton. The previous Government were able to deflect the US from the strategy of lift and strike. We had to put up with critics, not least the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). We knew the difficulties and consequences of the air-only option, and we were not prepared to put in the necessary ground forces to fight to ensure that we could continue that strategy to the end.
The current options for action have been under consideration for some time. On 6 March 1998, the Contact Group said in a statement:
In the light of the deplorable violence in Kosovo, we feel compelled to take steps to demonstrate to the authorities in Belgrade that they cannot defy international standards without facing severe consequences.
Last year, the ground option was analysed and, because of the difficulties involved, buried by politicians.
I accept that the ground option involves horrendous difficulties: the numbers of troops required; the time that it will take to assemble the forces; the ground on which they will have to fight; the infrastructure that will have to built to support the invasion force, as well as the difficulties connected with the conduct of the campaign. However, I share the views of Haris Silajdzic on the likelihood of significant Serbian resistance, rather than those of some of my hon. Friends who believe that the Serbs will go on fighting for ever.
The Government and our allies faced a hard choice. They funked it, chose what could be described as the third way and hoped that their military strategy would work. They continue to hope, but there is no reason to hope and no expectation that the strategy will work. I would call it the "wing and a prayer" strategy. NATO officials sound shriller and shriller as they say, "We shall prevail." They do not convince me; they do not convince my mentor, John Keegan, who taught me at Sandhurst, and they certainly do not convince President Milosevic.
Our military leaders should have pointed out the consequences of their strategy. As the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) pointed out, the Chief of the Defence Staff has failed in his responsibilities, not least because of the enthusiastic position that he has taken on the merits of the current strategy. I worked with him when he was the Chief of the General Staff and I liked him, but in a war one cannot continue with a failing strategy. We must have the courage to face up to the difficulties of achieving our objectives and start to argue with our allies for our aims. Our allies must share the burden necessary to achieve our shared objectives.
Our objective now seems to be the liberation of Kosovo to allow its population the right of self-determination. Our objective should not be the replacement of Milosevic—that is a matter for the Serbian people—but we should prepare for that objective on our own terms and in our own time. It may take a year before we are in a position to cross the starting line—next spring, when we are ready—but, if we can find the will, the view from Belgrade will immediately change. The leaders in Belgrade will know that they will lose Kosovo. If they are to retain any interest in Kosovo, it will be in their interests to come to the negotiating table. The lesson is that we shall not will the end if we are not prepared to will the means.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) is absolutely right: we have been paying, and will continue to pay, an extremely high price for appeasing President Milosevic for far too long.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) took to task those of us who personalise this matter. His comment might have carried a little more strength if, in the very same breath, he had not himself personalised it by naming President Clinton and Tony Blair as those most responsible for this conflict—
I am sorry; I should have said the Prime Minister.
The recent history of the former Yugoslavia has not been black and white; atrocities have been committed by all sides. Yes, the ethnic cleansing of Krajina Serbs by Croats was wrong, but two—or many—wrongs do not make a right. Sometimes, in these situations, we must ask who started the conflict and whose motives and behaviour have been primarily responsible for it.
Those of us who have followed matters in the Balkans closely always knew that Kosovo would be the most dangerous flashpoint. From the moment Milosevic stripped the province of its autonomy and embarked on a state policy of repression of its 90 per cent. ethnic Albanian population, we knew that much worse was to come. For well over a year now, that policy has included ethnic cleansing, murder and terror. Kosovo may have featured only on some hon. Members' radar screens once the NATO action began, but Milosevic's terror has been going on for years.
To give this Government and the international community some credit, we moved with a great deal more urgency than in the Bosnia crisis, when it took five years, and ultimately bombs, before a peace was secured.
In an otherwise excellent speech, the hon. Member for Mid—Sussex (Mr. Soames) said that the single stain on the record was our failure to use the Russians to deliver the Serbs. The truth is that the Serbs were not deliverable. The Russians tried, for heaven's sake. The Russians were in the Contact Group; the Russians were as frustrated as we were that Milosevic would not see sense. Despite Milosevic breaking agreement after agreement, we and the Kosovars continued to negotiate in good faith right up to the Rambouillet talks—while Milosevic was building up his forces for a final solution.
Those who say that the international community should have built up its ground forces and foreseen the scale of the refugee crisis do so with the benefit of hindsight. No one could have foreseen the scale of the Serb assault on Kosovo. And, if we had built up our forces during the Rambouillet talks, what propaganda mileage that would have given Milosevic to accuse us of negotiating in bad faith.
The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) described the operation as United States-led. He is so wrong. The unity of the 19 NATO nations has been far stronger than many of us expected. That unity, and the public support in those democratic nations for the campaign, have increased as the conflict has gone on.
Those who say that the bombing has accelerated ethnic cleansing might be right, but they do not offer an alternative and ignore the fact that ethnic cleansing was going on anyway, and would have continued. Why do the critics never listen to the Kosovars themselves? Not a single refugee of the tens of thousands arriving in camps in Albania and Macedonia has said that they want the bombing to stop—not one. On the contrary, they see NATO as their only salvation. Even those whose relatives may have been killed last week by a NATO mistake say that they want the campaign to continue and intensify.
I hope that the Prime Minister is right when he says that the bombing is having its desired effect, but degrading Milosevic's ability to repress his own people can no longer be the sole limit of our ambition. That ambition must be the safe return of every Kosovar who has been driven from their home, in long-term peace and security. It must also be to try before the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague all those—right to the top—who are guilty of gross violations of international law. Not to see that through would be to capitulate to genocide in Europe 50 years after we vowed that it would never happen again. That is unacceptable to the British people and to those of the 18 other democracies that are fighting with us. The credibility of NATO, the guarantor of peace and security in Europe, would be in tatters, and we would give a green light to despots anywhere that they may murder, rape and pillage with impunity.
The Prime Minister has said that we must finish the job. Indeed we must, even if that means using ground troops to do so. I share the viewpoint of my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) that it was a mistake to rule out using ground troops when the bombing started. It cannot make sense to reveal one's hand to one's opponent at the start. However, I can understand why it was done. There was nervousness about what public opinion would stomach. But surely it is now obvious in this country, in America and in most of our allied countries that we underestimated our people's resolve.
On Saturday, canvassing in Exeter for the local elections, I asked every person that I met about the campaign, and I did not find a single one against it. One young man ran up to me and said, "Please tell Tony Blair we need ground troops in Kosovo now." Now may not be feasible—it may well make sense to destroy the Serb military infrastructure some more first—but we must at least now start to prepare for that possibility. Summer in the Balkans is very short.
As a former BBC correspondent, I conclude by saying something about the discussion on the media in this war. In a recent newspaper editorial, I was accused of doing the Government's dirty work in leading the charge against the BBC. Let me tell the House, nobody tells me what to do or say, especially about a former employer of mine, and I wish to place on the record the fact that I happen to think that the BBC has done an exemplary job of covering this war.
However, I made two limited and specific criticisms. The first was of the shortage of health warnings on reports from Belgrade at the start of the campaign. It is vital that listeners and viewers are reminded of the restrictions under which journalists operate in the Serb capital —in particular, the fact that there is no free access to Kosovo, which means that Serb action there goes unreported. Perhaps if my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) had been escorted to Kosovo by her Serb friends, her account might have had more credibility.
My second criticism is of senior BBC correspondents having regular columns in newspapers. That was prompted by John Simpson' s piece in the Sunday Telegraph in the first week of the campaign, under the headline,
Why this war isn't working".
It was always a rule at the BBC that correspondents did not write opinionated pieces for the newspapers because that damaged their impartiality and credibility in doing the job that the licence fee payers pay them to do for the BBC. That policy was good for the BBC. It was in the interests of robust, independent public service broadcasting. If that policy has changed, the BBC should tell us.
The BBC built its international reputation in the second world war, quite rightly, because it—almost uniquely among the world's broadcasters—reported our mistakes and defeats as well as our victories. Long may that continue. But let us never forget that in Belgrade, independent journalists are shot.
It is for those values of free speech, democracy and pluralism, of which the House and the country should be very proud, that our brave service men and women are now fighting.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. It is the first time that I have said anything about Kosovo, and I do so having spent a great deal of time—as have many colleagues from both sides of the House—talking to constituents on the subject, and listening to unprompted conversations.
I shall not take the House through the horror stories that have befallen the Kosovar Albanians, indulge in rhetoric about fascism or point out similarities with Hitler, not because many of those arguments are not well founded but because they have been made, far more fluently than I could make them.
I shall not speak about the tragedy of errors leading to civilian casualties in Serbia, but I do argue, as did the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), that it is essential that NATO is clear and honest about whatever has happened—I understand that it made some statements this afternoon—because if there is a feeling, as there has been in the past few days, that the truth is not being told, the media strategy of NATO is seen to move closer to that of the Serbians, and that is obviously unacceptable. Involving Alastair Campbell in NATO's media campaign does nothing to enhance its credibility.
I wholly support the need for our involvement in Kosovo. I go further than I know that some of my hon. Friends do. I agreed with the Prime Minister when he said last week that there was a humanitarian aspect that we could not ignore. In the modern world, with modern communications, we should not stand aside and watch atrocities take place, but I accept that there is hypocrisy. We can all point to examples where we have not become involved. However, that does not necessarily mean never becoming involved. I agree with those who think that we let things go on for too long in Bosnia. I tried from behind the scenes, but failed, to alter the stance of the then Government.
I do not doubt the Prime Minister's desire to achieve a satisfactory conclusion but I have serious doubts about the way he has gone about it. Before any involvement should take place, it is essential to examine all the eventualities. There should be an objective, an exit strategy and the forces to achieve the objective. It is becoming clear that the Government and the United States Government did none of these things adequately.
I do not doubt also that the Government are wholehearted in their desires, but they have been half-hearted in the execution of their strategy to achieve those desires. At the outset, both the Government and President Clinton said that there would be no ground troops. I believe that that was said on the basis of what they thought public opinion would accept. I believe also that Governments should lead public opinion, not follow it. The announcement from day one that there would be no ground troops gave a clear message to Milosevic to hurry up with his programme of ethnic cleansing before things became too difficult.
No, I am not giving way. The hon. Gentleman should have learned by now that virtually no one gives way when speeches are restricted to 10 minutes.
I have little doubt that Milosevic's plans had been made. The atrocities had started before the air attacks. I have little doubt also that the speed of the expulsions and atrocities, with the resulting chaos in the border countries, is a result of our bombardment. It is entirely right, of course, to say that the crime of ethnic cleansing is the same whether it takes place quickly or slowly. However, the problem of resolving the refugee situation, which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) described, has been exacerbated because of the speed of the expulsions. As I have said, I believe that that has been the result of the bombing campaign, which is a bombing campaign on its own. It is not that we should not have done it, but we should not have pretended that we could get away with only a bombing campaign.
Shortly before the Easter recess the Secretary of State for Defence said that he could not give details of any of our tactics. That is right. We all understand that. However, why did the Government do so in spades with regard to ground troops? The Serbian Government know full well of all the difficulties that would face us. They know also of the reluctance that we would face in committing ground troops. However, for all the reasons that have been described, ruling out the use of ground troops from day one was a clear message to the Serbs to get on with their evil plans. Their use should have been left as an option and preparations should have been set in train. A month has elapsed during which preparations could have been well advanced. It may be that they are now advanced, and I am not necessarily asking to be assured or otherwise, but I think that it is an important point.
Ministers keep telling us that their military advisers say that air strikes alone will be sufficient. If they are saying that, they seem to be the only people who take that view. Even now, after four weeks, there is little sign of any step down by Milosevic. I do not believe that there will be, at least until Kosovo is cleared of Albanians. When that is the position, he may make some overtures.
So what now? In my view Rambouillet is entirely dead. Whatever the Prime Minister thinks, bearing in mind what he said last week, if he really wants the Albanians to return to Kosovo, I cannot conceive that they will do so now if Kosovo remains in any way Serbian. So the rest of the world, and in the context of the debate, the Government, must decide what the options are. There seem to be three. The first is to stop the bombing on some pretext once Milosevic has achieved his aims. That is not a real option and it would achieve nothing. Almost certainly it could lead to the end of NATO.
The second option is partition. I was astonished that the Prime Minister ruled it out so categorically last week, not because I like it—I do not—but because it may be the only option that can be achieved. It may not be sustainable, given the need for military force to maintain it, but it was unwise to rule it out at this stage.
The third option is some form of independent Kosovo, which, again, is by no means perfect. Kosovo's size and it remaining independent are problems, and this option ignores the importance of Kosovo to Serbia and the historic sense of linkage, which is the cause of so much of the conflict.
In the immediate future, we have only one real option—to win. Whatever the niceties of a declaration of war may be, they are technicalities which the ordinary men and women we represent do not understand. However, they understand that, if we start something such as this, we must commit all the forces necessary to achieve the victory that we set out to achieve.
We now read that President Clinton wants Milosevic himself to fall and, unsurprisingly, our Prime Minister appears to have followed suit. Is that one of our new objectives or not? That is yet another example of change; the crucial point is that the confusion over objectives and ground troops gives comfort to our opponents and creates uncertainty among our supporters. The Foreign Secretary said today that our objectives remain as they were, but he then said that Rambouillet was clearly not enough. At the outset, he and the Prime Minister were saying that the Rambouillet framework was our objective.
Frequently the Government have made specific statements—on ground troops, partition and many other subjects—and boxed themselves completely into a corner. This is not a reflection on the Government, but the reality is that we will almost certainly have to follow suit if the American Government decide that they will put ground troops in or will accept partition. Our Government will have to swallow their words.
No one can have failed to be moved by the sights that we have seen and the stories that we have heard. No words can adequately describe Milosevic and his morality, but simply removing him alone from power would not negate the actions of hundreds or thousands Serbian soldiers, police and militia. How many years will have to elapse before there is again any sense of trust between the Albanians and Serbians?
Our service men deserve our support, and they have it. They also deserve clarity of political purpose and the resources to enable them to fulfil their role. They have not had that. Ruling out the use of ground troops was a massive error of judgment. Launching air attacks in a low-key way—today, the Foreign Secretary said that their scale has more than doubled—did not convince Milosevic that we were serious about our purpose. If the attacks are beginning to work, as the Foreign Secretary has led us to believe, it is too late. The expulsions are almost complete and the acceptable outcomes—
The crisis in Kosovo raises a number of profound questions. We have had a good debate in the House this evening and heard a variety of views on this difficult and controversial issue. One profound question raised by the crisis is, what circumstances in the modern world justify military action?
There may be a variety of answers to that question. One is that there are no such circumstances—the pacifist position; I have reason to respect it, but that is not my own position. A predominant view is that the national interest determines military action. Many Members of the House would take that view. The national interest can include many factors, from the defence of the realm and of these shores to economic or commercial interests—not least oil, in the modern world.
I want to challenge the view that a narrow definition of national interest is helpful in determining Britain's role in the world. We live in a new world. Following the end of the cold war, we cannot be relaxed about nuclear weaponry and many nuclear-armed nations have planet-destroying capability.
Nevertheless, many of the conflicts that we now face are of a different order. We live in a world where geopolitical disputes have always occurred, often ethnic in origin and atrocious in execution. Rwanda is a major example from Africa, and former Yugoslavia is a key example close by in Europe. We live in a world where sophisticated international media bring atrocities, through our television screens and printed media, into our living rooms to shock us as we eat our television suppers.
We also live in a world where, not least because of the media, a humanitarian response is developing among the public, summed up in the phrase, "Something must be done". While many use that phrase pejoratively, it is an expression of civil decency. That opinion is belittled by some military experts and patronised by some conventional politicians, but it is the majority view of our constituents. It is a view that overrides the conventional definition of national interest, but it is right that in Kosovo something must be done.
Politically, this issue is confusing. We have seen that in the House today, with many of us on the left appearing more enthusiastic about intervention than those on the right. This new world involves new and confusing politics, not least for the left. We now talk about Kosovo, but not long ago we talked about Bosnia. As a new Member in the previous Parliament in 1992, I was shocked by what I took to be the majority view of both sides of the House that we should be extremely cautious about intervention. The view was that, at best, we should go easy and, at worst, do nothing. The Foreign Office was led by the key appeasers.
I grew up in post-war Britain, and found it difficult to understand the appeasement of Nazi Germany that had taken place in the 1930s. It was only when I heard debates about Bosnia in this House in the early 1990s that I started to understand the appeasement of the 1930s. In a parliamentary Session in the early 1990s, I visited Sarajevo-not at the height of the conflict, but nevertheless when the city was being shelled. I was there for just two or three days. Talking to people in Bosnia and Sarajevo helped me to understand what it was like to live in that civilised, cosmopolitan city surrounded by mountains from which Serb soldiers could look down the rifle sights of their sophisticated weaponry and decide which old lady, child or woman to kill that day.
In Bosnia, ethnic cleansing gave us a vile new vocabulary to add to the lexicon of international relations. The situation in Kosovo bears comparison, but is a more extreme case. However, no one could foresee or predict the scale of the tragedy of recent weeks. No one in the House would argue about that.
I strongly support the Government's commitment to NATO action. I am aware of the complexity and difficulties, not least for our armed services, but I can think of no other policy of this Government that I support so wholeheartedly. It is difficult, because in recent years the public have come to expect short wars. They have been seduced by smart weapons and quick remits. We are seeing things rather differently now. Old-fashioned weather—the wrong kind—is supposedly inhibiting high-tech weaponry. We are seeing slow progress, mistakes and terrible casualties. We are also seeing the difficulties of waging military action in the media spotlight. We must be sophisticated about that, not least in terms of our own actions and words. How do free democracies fight a war in public against a tyranny that censors its media, locks up its opponents and assassinates a key newspaper editor? I would be the first to defend those in the House who speak against the war, but they have a duty to think how their words will be replayed in Belgrade and about the comfort that they will bring to the perpetrators of aggression and atrocity.
I am no military expert—and, a few weeks into a war, I will not pretend to be one —but I believe that the use of ground troops will be necessary. We need an army in Kosovo. Milosevic must have no veto over that decision. I suspect, although I am no expert, that Kosovo should become a UN protectorate. I suspect that, one day, it may have to become an independent nation.
We must put more energy into the International War Crimes Tribunal. I do not minimise the difficulty of arresting Dr. Karadzic and General Mladic but had they been tried by now, things may have been rather different. Although we are aware of extravagant language, it is a decent use of English to say that Dr. Karadzic and President Milosevic are war criminals and should be tried.
Former Yugoslavia must somehow summon up the energy soon—like the rest of us—to enter the new millennium. It does so in the worst possible circumstances. For Europe, the 20th century was stained in its midst by Nazi genocide. Despite the caution of my colleagues, it is appropriate to say that the century is ending with genocide in Bosnia—we remember Srebrenica particularly—and genocide and the ethnic killing of young and old in Kosovo.
Do we say that there is no national interest? Our boundaries are not threatened, and no profits are at stake, but I believe that the people of Britain and the wider democratic world will not tolerate the slaughter of the men of Kosovo; the organised rape of its women and girls; the uprooting and terrorising of its elders; and the attempted expulsion of an entire people by military might.
Some may attack the idea as fanciful and innocent, but I say that action on the grounds of "Something must be done" is a modern, decent national interest. Something must be done — and this House is right to support the Government in trying to do it.
I wish to concentrate on two of the war aims enunciated by the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. The first—as has been reiterated many times by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister—is to return the refugees to their homes. I wish to examine the implications of that war aim. The second was not mentioned by the Foreign Secretary today, but has been mentioned briefly by the Prime Minister; to return stability to the whole region. That matter has not been dwelt on in this debate.
The hon. Members for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) referred to the terrible plight of the refugees in neighbouring countries to Kosovo. The camps in Macedonia, for instance—which were put up so brilliantly and so quickly by the British Army — have serious problems. There is no adequate sanitation, schooling or health provision. They are no places for any refugee to stay for a long time.
We have been told this afternoon that the war will go on for much longer, so we must look at how we provide properly for those refugees and how we make certain that we have sufficient provision for them. I have been trying to find out the number of refugees with whom we will be dealing. My inquiries have met with varied results. I have been told that about 500,000 refugees are spread between Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. Those are the main areas in which the current refugees are to be found.
Those people are crossing the borders in ever-increasing numbers, and the longer the war continues, the larger the numbers will be. The population of Kosovo is approximately 2 million, 90 per cent. of whom are Albanian Muslims, Kosovans or Illyrians—as they would call themselves in some of their more historical reminiscences about their origins. If all those people are to be "cleansed", horribly as it may be, we shall be dealing with a much larger refugee problem than I think the international community has even begun to contemplate.
Certainly, the amount of money that we have contributed is insufficient to deal with the problem. I understand from ministerial statements that we have contributed £20 million, £10 million of which will come from the emergency provisions of the Department for International Development and £10 million from a source that the Prime Minister did not name to us. I hope that that money will not come from the budget of the Department for International Development; if that is the case, the question of our attacking poverty will rise. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will tell us where the money will come from when he winds up the debate.
There has been talk of a further £7 million, making a total of £27 million. There are also our contributions to the UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF, and to the European Union fund, so the total is actually much greater than the public imagine. Nevertheless, it is not enough to enable us to deal with the refugee problem that we shall face over a long period. We shall have to establish whole villages, which are likely to comprise more than 1 million people and which will need to be provided with proper sanitation, proper housing and shelter, schools and numerous services for women and children who have been parted from their families. There will need to be services to deal with the trauma that people will have experienced, as well as food and medical supplies. Nothing like that level of provision has been contemplated by the country, by the House or, indeed, by the international community, but I think that we must plan for it.
The war aim is to return the refugees to their homes in Kosovo after, say, six or nine months, but what does that mean? Their homes have been incinerated: they have been destroyed. We in NATO are busily destroying the infrastructure that controlled those homes, on the basis that those are military targets that we are entitled to bomb: roads, bridges, fuel supplies, water supplies and sanitation. People are not going to return. Refugees who have been established, properly, in camps of which we can be proud ate not going to return to conditions in which they have not the basic elements enabling them to live—including food: they will not have been able to plant crops or produce any kind of harvest for the next year. We must provide those people with food, housing, and all the infrastructure into the bargain.
Given our objectives and the opportunities that exist, a huge problem lies ahead of us. Meanwhile, we are destroying the Serbian infrastructure. There are already 600,000 refugees in Serbia who have come from Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and who need help of the kind that is given to refugees. Our bombing is making many more people homeless, and giving them refugee status. If we are to pursue this war to its conclusion—which is demonstrated by a single objective—we must make provision for the Serb refugees and the homeless in Serbia who will be destitute, without jobs, food or shelter. We cannot ignore their problems. If we are to provide a stable regime for the rest of the region, we cannot allow the stationing in small countries of a number of refugees that would upset the ethnic balance in those countries.
Moreover, we cannot treat refugees better—give them better housing, better food, better shelter and better medical facilities—than the people who live in Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania. We have a massive problem with which to deal in those countries. We need to make provision for it now. We need to alert all the international agencies, particularly the UNHCR, to that great problem.
With the massive number of minorities and refugees in those countries, stability is not likely, particularly if we have to introduce troops to defend refugees whom we return to Kosovo. They will not return unless they feel that they will not be attacked again.
Therefore, the question is: how are we to provide that security? Is it to be through an international protectorate, sniped at by the Serbs? We know what their capacity is for guerrilla warfare. They will not accept an international protectorate in that area, particularly if it is not supported by the UN; I understand that it may not be. The protectorate may be imposed by NATO, which is the wrong way in which to approach the problem. We need to have UN and Russian support. Indeed, we have to go for a negotiated settlement with the help of Russia and the UN to stop the crisis developing to a degree where we cannot deal with it either financially or logistically.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to what is an important debate.
There is no doubt that the plight of the Kosovar refugees has hit to the very heart of the British people, who have responded with characteristic generosity to the disturbing scenes of streams of Kosovars driven from their homes, fleeing with few provisions across the borders into camps in Macedonia and Albania. In my own city of Gloucester, the public responded swiftly, establishing collection points in the city centre for clothing, blankets and children's toys. Over the past few weeks, as a result of that, I have spoken to hundreds of people in my city. The overwhelming response to the NATO campaign has been, "It's about time. Milosevic has had enough time to negotiate over many years. It's about time the international community acted."
As someone who spent most of her working life before being elected working in international aid agencies, often communicating the aftermath of war, I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with that view. I strongly believe that the suffering of the Kosovar Albanian families will cease in the long term only if Milosevic's war machine is stopped now and if the NATO campaign does not cease until his military capability has finally been completely crushed. If the international community had dealt with Milosevic and his systematic campaigns of ethnic cleansing in that way almost a decade ago, we would not be witnessing yet again mass atrocities almost on our borders.
I became active in party politics quite late on and primarily as a result of my experience working in the international aid sector. Personally, I grew increasingly frustrated with lobbying politicians for action. 1 thought that I should like to play a more direct part in trying to influence political decisions. Certain international events during my career crystallised my thinkg—indeed, it changed it—on military intervention, in particular, the tragedies in Bosnia and Rwanda.
I remember clearly in 1994 the aid agencies and people on the ground warning politicians throughout the world that genocide was being planned in Rwanda. As in most cases of genocide, the Rwandan genocide was not spontaneous. It was not just an ethnic tribal conflict. The genocide was strategic, clinical and totally predictable.
I madly lobbied politicians to increase the UN presence in Rwanda and to get the UN to intervene to prevent the genocide, not just to stand by as a passive witness. It was a sad, frustrating and depressing experience. While politicians pontificated, the Rwandan massacres took place under their noses. Instead of intervening, the UN pulled out.
To our eternal shame, almost 1 million people were slaughtered under the noses of the inactive international community. We failed the Rwandan people and then the people of Bosnia too. The reports of death camps, mass executions and systematic massacres there in the early 1990s gradually exposed the situation. Then, too, there were cries that the reports might be exaggerated and should be a bit more evenhanded. After the event, when the mass graves were uncovered, it emerged that the truth was much worse than many of the reports.
I remember the frustration that many of us felt that the world had waited too long to act. In both those cases, arguments were advanced about national sovereignty and the rights of the nation state, but we had a responsibility as an international community and as signatories to the UN convention on genocide to prevent genocide wherever possible; we did not. In any case, the survivors of the Rwandan genocide did not care whose remit it was, or about the dot or comma of international law: they wanted action and they wanted their families saved from the massacres. For the sake of basic humanity, the genocide in Rwanda should have been stopped.
I feel the same sense of frustration now as a Member of Parliament, seeing the plans for genocide—I make no apology for using that word—unfold in Kosovo. I do not like war—I have seen its effects at first hand—but I am pleased and relieved that the Labour Government are not turning away from Kosovo and finding excuses not to act. We are acting now to prevent genocide and not to have the shame of standing by and prevaricating while hundreds of thousands of people are systematically ethnically cleansed. That is a brave decision and it is morally correct.
So far, either beforehand or this evening, I have not heard any convincing alternative to NATO's actions that would have protected the Kosovar Albanians. I have heard plenty of reasons — and felt a sense of déjá vu—why NATO should not intervene, but no credible, practical alternatives from those opposing the NATO actions. Some hon. Members have argued that the UN should be the lead force in the intervention and that we need more negotiations with Milosevic. If we expected the UN to arrive on a white charger to save the Kosovar Albanians from genocide, we would have had a long wait. We all know that the UN would never have intervened in Kosovo because of the veto system in the Security Council.
Last year, I was part of a delegation from the Select Committee on International Development to the Secretary-General and the UN head of peacekeeping. I asked both of them what the ultimate sanctions applied to any party in a conflict who did not abide by UN resolutions would be. I was thinking not of Kosovo at the time, but of Angola and Western Sahara. It was made clear to me that any wait for UN intervention would be a very long one, that there was no political will around the world to intervene, and that the ultimate sanction the UN had was to pull out.
I remember commenting to colleagues on the delegation that that was a charter for any expansionist dictator to invade anywhere, commit atrocities, have a few UN resolutions slapped at him, sit tight for a few years and the UN would pull out. Sadly, the UN would not have prevented genocide in Kosovo.
The UN must be the foundation of international law and our hope for the future, but its capabilities to intervene must be built up. We must also address the ridiculous veto system in the Security Council. That is an enormous task and the people of Kosovo could not wait for it to be completed. I have also heard it argued that we should not intervene in Kosovo because we did not do so in Rwanda or Bosnia. Surely that is the point. We did not intervene, to our eternal shame. What are we supposed to say to people in Kosovo now? "We are sorry, but you will have to wait and let genocide happen. We let a million die in Rwanda and we did not intervene in Bosnia, so it would not be fair." I do not think so.
It is also argued that we should negotiate, but we did and for more than a year. This time Milosevic is following a characteristic pattern. We have seen it before—the clearing of villages, the burnings, the torture and the mass executions. If Milosevic accepts NATO's five-point plan, the bombings will stop. It is that simple and straightforward. We must be clear that he is enacting a strategically planned programme of ethnic cleansing. Whatever the historical perspectives, that is what he is doing—and we must remember that fact throughout this debate. More than 500,000 people have been displaced, villages have been burnt and destroyed, men taken away and shot, and women raped.
The question of rape in Kosovo clearly illustrates Milosevic's true intentions in that area and across the region. It is at the heart of his genocidal campaign. The reports of rape from women refugees are not unfamiliar to me. I had heard them from Bosnian women and read countless similar testimonies during the Bosnian war less than 10 years ago.
The rapes are not spontaneous acts of violence by an uncontrolled military. Yet again, Milosevic's forces are using rape as an act of genocide. When Serb forces rape a woman as part of an ethnic cleansing strategy, they intend to do, and succeed in doing, several things. They humiliate an Albanian. Often, they rape a woman in front of family members—fathers, brothers and sons. They destroy the fabric of the family.
The trauma is shared by the family, and the trauma is a stain on the culture of a community in which virginity before marriage is greatly prized. I have read sad reports of Albanian women in refugee camps clutching so-called rape certificates so that, when they are looking for a husband, they can prove that they were raped. Gang rape is also common, with an obvious intensification of the trauma.
The ultimate in ethnic cleansing comes when a Kosovo woman bears a Serb child. That is what the systematic campaign of genocide is about. I strongly believe that we had a moral imperative to intervene. I should not have felt happy with myself or my Government if we had sat back, yet again, while nothing happened as genocide unfolded before us. If push comes to shove, we must send in ground troops. Unless Milosevic's killing machine is stopped, and his military strength crushed, he will return, yet again, to haunt us militarily, and we will stand here in the same position in 10 years' time.
Once again, we have had an interesting debate. Opinions have not changed much, but we have heard a good deal more frankness. Fundamental divisions remain on both sides of the House.
We have heard some excellent speeches. My hon. Friends the Members for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney), for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), have given the Government broad support. I was sorry to miss the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), but I have heard that it was a powerful endorsement of the Government's position.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) dissented equally powerfully. Perhaps the best statements of dissent came from my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir P. Tapsell), who reminded us of some basic military doctrine, and from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who was, as ever, brilliant. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, he is always worth listening to. I hope one day to make a speech in the House that is as good as those that he always makes.
There have been several developments since last we debated Kosovo, but the atrocities continue, and there are more than 500,000 refugees, plus probably an equal number inside Kosovo. The ferocity and brutality of the Serb regime led by Milosevic continues to astound us. We still support the Government's policies to reverse the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, to regain the whole of Kosovo and to allow the refugees to return to their homes—or, in many cases I fear, to what is left of those homes. We also support our armed forces and their efforts to achieve those objectives.
It has been gratifying during the past three weeks to see the NATO alliance holding together. It appears solid, although one or two members waver slightly more than others. We are glad that the alliance has remained solid, because in its unity lies its strength.
Three weeks ago, in his statement just before Easter, the Secretary of State for Defence said that Milosevic was cowering in his bunker. In retrospect, those words appear over-optimistic. As I said at the time, I thought that the action would take longer and prove more difficult than the Government had thought. I still hold that view, and it is probably shared now by a great many other people, possibly including the Government.
The Government are right to seek to regain the whole of Kosovo. They have our support in that. But difficult questions remain, and I should like to put them to the Secretary of State. I do not expect answers—public answers—to all of them. However, I hope that the Government have thought about these questions and have their own answers.
First, let us consider the original objectives—having Milosevic sign the Rambouillet agreement, and preventing atrocities. Clearly, we have not been successful in those aims. Our objective now is to return the Albanians to Kosovo, but whether we are talking about an autonomous or independent Kosovo is not certain, and the Foreign Secretary was not entirely clear about that when he opened the debate. Neither the Albanians nor the Kosovo Liberation Army are likely to accept anything less than an independent Kosovo, and that poses grave difficulties. We would like to know how the Government intend to address the question of whether borders can be adjusted.
The Prime Minister has ruled out partition, which would in any case be seen as a failure for NATO. The Foreign Secretary said as much today. Deposing Milosevic and indicting him for war crimes would have to go together, and that would be a big extension of the mission that NATO has set itself. Would Russia stand by and not react to that?
At the heart of the story of the terrible catastrophe of the past few days have been the refugees. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) illustrated the simply enormous scale of the effort that would be needed to deal with the crisis. We heard heart-rending stories from the hon. Members for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). When we hear about 500,000 refugees it is hard to understand how individuals are affected, but they helped us to understand their plight.
The problem needs massive resources of food, money, people and effort. Does the Secretary of State believe that enough resources are going in? At the beginning of last week, the Macedonian Government were saying that they had received no money. I am aware that money is not the only form of help that is going in, but a poor and relatively unstable country such as Macedonia clearly needs it. Reports from Albania are of chaos. Do the Government really think that the effort is adequate? Who is in charge of it internationally or in our Government?
There have been some mistakes in the military campaign. We failed to foresee the nature and extent of the refugee crisis and underestimated the scale of military effort that would be needed to secure Milosevic's co-operation. In retrospect, it seems that we activated the bombing campaign that was planned before the Holbrooke agreement was secured last autumn. That campaign was intended to get Milosevic to negotiate, whereas now we are trying to get him to stop his activities in Kosovo, which is likely to require military action on a wholly different scale.
We clearly overestimated our ability to stop Serb action on the ground in Kosovo. We are now stepping up the campaign but it is still very difficult to deal with small army units on the ground. Our ground attack aircraft apparently still feel compelled to fly at altitudes that make their task extremely difficult. I do not know what the Secretary of State's view is— clearly, it is a subject that he may not want to discuss in public—but it would be much better if they could fly at lower altitudes. Perhaps then such difficulties as the dreadful accident that occurred last week could be avoided.
We support the Government in the view that bombing can work, but it will not achieve the objectives quickly. There must be voices in the Serb Government asking whether all this is worth it and saying that there may be room for compromise. Once that process starts, there is some hope that NATO and the Government can achieve their objectives in Kosovo, but removing Milosevic from power will require a great deal more military effort.
If we remove Milosevic, there will have to be a completely new Government in Belgrade. We should not imagine that he is a lone figure. In fact, there is considerable evidence that many of the people behind him are worse than him and have personally committed atrocities in Bosnia. If our objective is to change the whole Government in Belgrade, that is a radical extension of our mission. We would all want to put Milosevic on trial, but to set that as a war aim would be a big extension of the mission, and I am not sure that it is sensible to do that at this time.
If the bombing does not achieve the objectives fairly soon, the Government and NATO are faced with three rather unattractive options. One is a compromise, involving partition of Kosovo, which the Foreign Secretary has ruled out; another is the introduction of ground troops; and the third is the continuation of the bombing in an attrition mode, destroying more and more of Serbia. If we cannot bring the action to a swift conclusion, I hope at least that it will not drag on all summer.
To send in ground troops would be a big escalation of the conflict. We understand from the Government that there has been no change in their policy and that they do not foresee any need for one and are not planning for it. There is a lot of glib advocacy of the idea that ground troops can resolve the conflict and it is simply a question of clicking one's fingers, putting together an army of 100,000 or 150,000 and trucking them into Kosovo. That would be an enormous extension of the mission that NATO has set.
Will the Secretary of State answer the two questions posed by my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary? Have any preparations been made to assemble more ground forces in the area? Does he accept that preparations would have to be made now if there were to be a ground force that could fight its way into Kosovo this year?
When the Prime Minister first made his statement to the House, the Leader of the Opposition supported the air strikes but said clearly that he would not support ground troops. The policy of the Government and NATO at present is not to use ground troops. If that policy changes, will the Opposition support the Government and NATO?
If there is to be an enormous change of Government policy, I shall wait to hear it announced by the Prime Minister or a Secretary of State. I do not suppose that they will ask the hon. Gentleman to do it for them. As we have with everything else that the Government have said, we will consider that, but the Government have said that ground troops are not necessary and they have no proposals to introduce them. The Americans have made it clear that that is their policy. No one would dream of it without the presence of American ground troops. On that basis, we too have ruled out the use of ground troops.
There are great difficulties in getting a ground army into Kosovo that must be recognised by its advocates and by the House. Let us consider the borders of Kosovo. To go in from Hungary means going through Serbia. I suspect that Romania and Bulgaria would like to stay out of this, and their involvement would mean using a Black sea port. I cannot imagine that Croatia is keen to get involved in the conflict now that it has secured its independence. The use of Bosnian territory would risk undermining the delicate settlement there. That leaves Albania and Macedonia.
Using Macedonia would mean using a Greek port and Greek territory. The Greeks are the most pro-Serb of all the NATO nations. They have ruled out the use of their ports and territory for ground troops, as has Macedonia, although it might be easier to change the mind of the Macedonians than that of the Greeks. Even if Macedonia were used, I understand that there is only one rather narrow road into Kosovo. If we go through Albania, there is a port, but I understand that its infrastructure is rudimentary. The road from Tirana to the northern border is little more than a track and 6,000 ft mountains would have to be crossed. Those are the only two politically possible routes for getting an army into Kosovo, and neither looks attractive. Those who glibly call for ground troops should tell us how they think it could be done because it would be a risky and difficult operation.
We must remember that it could be a long-term commitment. It is a question not only of how we get in but of how we get out. There are many other areas of potential conflict in the Balkans into which we could be dragged if NATO had a ground army in place.
The hon. Gentleman is identifying with great skill and clarity the available alternatives. Would he join me in saying that, at every stage, the House should be asked by the Government explicitly to support whatever the current policy happens to be?
I have much sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman's view but there have been many statements and debates on the subject. There has been no shortage of opportunities for right hon. and hon. Members to present their views. I know that he thinks there should be a vote on a substantive motion but he is in a better position than me to take that up with his Whips.
NATO seems to be encouraging the Kosovo Liberation Army. We have heard remarks about a phoenix rising from the ashes but we must ask who is arming it. It is getting arms, some of which turned out to be NATO arms obtained from Croatia. There is a United Nations arms embargo. If we are to arm the KLA and use it as part of the forces involved, we must answer some difficult questions. How do we get rid of the arms embargo? How will Russia react? I shall come presently to my concerns about the Russian position and the way in which they might be involved.
What is our policy on that matter? What is NATO's policy? The Rambouillet agreement called for the disarming of the KLA. We must accept that, whether we like it or not, the KLA will be a force in the area. The army exists; presumably it is getting recruits; we know that it is getting arms and has a greater incentive to fight for that territory than almost anyone else. How we use or manage the KLA is an important issue and I shall be interested in the Secretary of State's views on that matter.
My hon. Friend makes a point of real significance. If we fail to support the KLA's aim to liberate Kosovo and to enable the Kosovar people—when they all return home—to exercise their fundamental right to self-determination, is it not true that the KLA will obtain its arms from Libya, Iran or other places? It would be much better for us to work with the KLA than for that army to work with malign forces.
My hon. Friend illustrates the difficulties of operating in that region. However, as I said, a UN arms embargo is in place and I do not think that we in NATO could be seen to be arming the KLA outside it. One of the dangers of the activities of members of the KLA is that they may feed the demand for a Greater Albania, which is part of the potential undermining of the stability of Macedonia and one of the reasons we originally became involved in this matter. There are great threats to the stability of Macedonia that we must consider.
Several of my hon. Friends raised the issue of NATO's credibility in seeing through this matter —my hon. Friends the Members for Ruislip-Northwood, for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), for instance. The Government have put NATO's credibility at stake and that credibility must be redeemed, because our security relies on NATO.
Our relations with Russia have clearly been badly damaged and I am glad that they are being repaired. I am glad that the Foreign Secretary said that he was in touch with Mr. Ivanov, and also that Madeleine Albright has recently met the Russian Foreign Minister. It would be a good idea to consider including the Russians in the peacekeeping force. There is no reason why it has to be a NATO force; in fact, that is one of the things that is unacceptable to the Serbs. If it were an international force under the auspices of the OSCE or the UN, perhaps the Russians could be included. In the long run, the Russians must be part of the solution to this problem.
I have asked the Secretary of State to consider a moratorium on running down the Territorial Army. He has issued a call-out order under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, but we do not know how long that requirement will last. The whole strategic defence review will have to be reconsidered in the light of the long-term commitments that we make in this area. We cannot sustain such commitments for long under the current SDR. Will he consider reviewing the run-down of the Territorial Army, at least temporarily until we know where we are?
I have previously expressed my concern that there does not seem to be a long-term strategy or plan for the Balkan region as a whole. We seem to have dealt with it piecemeal and at present we are dealing with a particular, and fairly small, part of the problem in political terms —although it is huge in terms of human suffering. We need a Kosovo settlement that will allow the Albanian Kosovars to return with an international protection force. I agree with that. However, if we do not depose or get rid of Milosevic, we shall need an agreement with Serbia if long-term stability is to be achieved. That will involve dealing with the Serb Government, so we should not put ourselves in a position in which that becomes impossible. We need a policy for the sustainability and stability of the whole region and I am not sure that such a policy is in place. However, when it is, it will be clear that Serbia must be part of the settlement.
The atrocities about which we read daily in our newspapers and which we see on our television screens continually bring home to us all the scale of human tragedy unfolding in Kosovo and the sheer evil embodied in the Milosevic regime. The Government are right to want Kosovo's refugees to return to their homes in peace and security. We support the Government in those objectives and we support our armed forces in achieving them and wish them success. However, this is war—with all the uncertainties, dangers and bloodshed that are its constant companions. It is not surprising that events are not unfolding as planned; it would be surprising if they were. Not only is this a war, but it is a war in the Balkans, where instability and conflict have been a recurrent reality throughout history, and where great powers have feared to tread, or have come to grief before.
The Government have put NATO's credibility at stake in this matter, and that credibility must be redeemed. Many hon. Members have put the point forcefully today that our security depends on NATO and we cannot afford to see it fail. We hope that the outcome of these events will be not only a peaceful return to Kosovo by its population, but part of an overall settlement of the post-Tito, post-communist Balkans. In pursuing the highly principled objectives which they have set themselves, the Government must ensure that we do not become permanently militarily engaged in that complex and dangerous part of Europe.
For all those reasons, we have felt it right to ask the questions that we have put to Ministers today and on previous occasions. We do not expect public answers to all those questions, but we hope that the House can be confident that the Government have addressed them and thought them through fully.
This is the second full debate on this subject in the House since the commencement of NATO air operations against President Milosevic's repression of the Kosovar Albanians. It is right that the House should have the opportunity to debate those momentous events. Today's debate, like the others, has allowed all shades of opinion in the House to be ventilated, which is in stark contrast to the situation inside Serbia, where dissenting voices are crushed by fear of an autocrat who will stop at absolutely nothing to preserve his power.
I should like to highlight several of the speeches that have been made today. As is inevitable —indeed, it is the very purpose of debate—hon. Members have asked questions, and I hope to be able to answer some of them and respond to some of the concerns that have been expressed. However, I watched the nine o'clock news, in which the BBC's political editor characterised the debate as one that showed "growing concern" about the Government and NATO's position, so let me highlight those speakers who have given general support to the Government's position.
The right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith); my hon. Friends the Members for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and for Walsall, South (Mr. George); the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell); the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames); my hon. Friends the Members for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) and for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw); my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham), who made a very eloquent speech; my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks); the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples); and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) all gave support for the position adopted by the Government, while asking the inevitable questions on behalf of the community as a whole. I shall have insulted hon. Members on both sides of the House whom I have omitted, but that list of speakers emphasises the way in which the House has given general support to the Government during this debate. It is worth making that point, not only to those who would take a handful of soundbites from the debate, but to those on the other side of our continent, who will characterise dissenting voices as speaking for the majority.
The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for a moment.
Having identified those right hon. and hon. Members who have offered general support—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was about to join them—I turn to the other speakers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made his usual eloquent but predictable speech, saying that we should not get involved in any action. He called in aid the United Nations, but let me remind him of what Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said last week. It is significant that Mr. Annan not only endorsed NATO's objectives in Kosovo but said:
Emerging slowly, but I believe surely, is an international norm against the violent repression of minorities that will and must take precedence over concerns of State sovereignty.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) again made his dissident speech, which he is entitled to do, although I consider him to be wrong. However, let me remind him of what he said on 12 July 1995, when he was addressing Malcolm Rifkind, the then Foreign Secretary. Then the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead, he said:
What does the Secretary of State, who in his previous job had quite a line in bellicosity, say to the charge on the lips of millions of Muslims around the world this morning, that, if oil was flowing in the streets of Srebrenica rather than just blood, 29 countries would quickly have assembled a vast armada of armies and air forces to come to the rescue of a sovereign state and a member of the United Nations that is being invaded and subjected to brutal aggression?"—[Official Report, 12 July 1995; Vol. 263, c. 960.]
The Secretary of State's latter point is crucial. Bosnia-Herzegovina was a sovereign state that was attacked from the outside, whereas Kosovo is part of Serbia. That was our position until a few months ago. We have joined a civil war within Serbia on the side of an organisation which last year was on the US State Department's list of international terrorist organisations.
So it is all right to attack, rape and murder Muslims so long as they are not in an independent state which is not Kuwait. That seems a very strange attitude to adopt.
On the eve of NATO's 50th anniversary, hon. Members should reflect on the origins of the alliance and its purpose. It was born out of a desire to secure a just settlement in Europe in the aftermath of the second world war. It preserved freedom in western Europe throughout the cold war and eventually triumphed over the dictatorship of the Soviet Union.
Today, in Milosevic, NATO faces a man who seems not to have learned the lessons of history and a man who believes that literally anything justifies his desire to cling to power. Europe at the end of the 20th century cannot accept that political problems are solved by recourse to the tactics of Hitler and Stalin. If we were to do so, we would put at risk the very ideals that NATO stands for: democracy and the rule of law.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—whose role in the current events has been exemplary and whose conduct has been praised widely—described NATO's response to the humanitarian crisis unleashed by Milosevic and our determination to force Milosevic to comply with the demands of the international community. I add my thanks and congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who has done much on the humanitarian front to move forward the great convoy that has saved so many lives in the Balkans.
I shall address some of the concerns and issues that right hon. and hon. Members have raised during the debate. Several hon. Members sought clarification—yet again—of the objectives of the military action. I thought that they were clear—they should certainly be clear in Belgrade because we have told them often enough; indeed, the Secretary-General repeated the military objectives last week when he was in Brussels with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, I shall repeat them again tonight.
The political objectives of the campaign are: a verifiable end to all Serb military action and the immediate ending of violence and repression; the withdrawal of Milosevic's military, police and paramilitary forces; agreement to the stationing in Kosovo of an international military peacekeeping force; the unconditional and safe return of all refugees and displaced persons and unhindered access to them by humanitarian aid organisations; and a credible assurance of a willingness to work on the basis of the Rambouillet accords in the establishment of a political framework for Kosovo in conformity with international law and the charter of the United Nations.
From the beginning, our military objectives have been the disruption of Milosevic's repressive operations and the weakening of his forces. They support the political objectives that we have set out, and NATO will continue its military actions until its objectives have been achieved.
I have a very limited amount of time in which to speak and I want to respond to some of the points that have been raised.
Many hon. Members referred to ground forces and the question of an opposed invasion of Kosovo. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon mentioned that, but, unlike other Conservative Members, he also recognised the comments of the Leader of the Opposition when the Prime Minister made his statement about this matter. It is worth remembering the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition on 23 March:
Although we support the use of ground troops to implement a diplomatic settlement, we shall not support their use to fight for a settlement.
He asked the Prime Minister to
confirm that those strikes are not a prelude to a ground war and that ground troops would be used only to implement a diplomatic settlement".—[Official Report, 23 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 163.]
It is worth Conservative Members' remembering what their leader said.
The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Casale), the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife all raised that issue and suggested that we should have deployed troops to engage in operations on the ground. They suggested that if we had done so, we could have averted the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. They are wrong to imagine that a ground campaign would have prevented the suffering of innocent civilians, but NATO's air campaign has succeeded in disrupting Serbian military operations in Kosovo.
Day by day and night by night, we are cutting into Milosevic's military capabilities. The air strikes will continue until NATO's objectives are met, and there is every chance that the Serbian leadership will soon see sense and decide that the game is no longer worth the candle. If it does not, and if the Serb forces maliciously continue to expel the Kosovar population and seek to hold the territory regardless of the strategic position, NATO will increasingly direct its fire against them.
So far as a ground force is concerned, NATO is of course committed to providing a force to go into Kosovo once the Serbs back down, and part of that force is already in Macedonia, ready to move at short notice. NATO will be updating its planning for that force to take account of the new situation in Kosovo, including the ravages inflicted by Milosevic, the effects of NATO air strikes and NATO's new demand since Rambouillet that all Serb forces should withdraw immediately.
The United Kingdom has already decided to send more of that force to Macedonia so as to be ready to deploy as soon as Milosevic backs down. We are determined that an international military force will be deployed in Kosovo once air strikes have done their job, so that the Kosovar people can return to their homes. At the end of the day, Milosevic will not have a veto.
A number of hon. Members referred to the humanitarian crisis that is now afflicting the countries in and around the Balkans as a result of the expulsion of the Albanians. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) made a powerful speech this evening, following his visit to Macedonia. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley spoke with her usual power about the plight of those who have been left the casualties of these dreadful events.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, asked about humanitarian air drops to the thousands of displaced people left inside Kosovo. I say to him and others who have asked that question—it is a good question which demands an answer and we have spent a long time considering it—that air dropping of food and other supplies to internally displaced people in Kosovo is not an easy option.
The many insurmountable problems include accurately locating where those people might be hiding and seeking refuge, and accurately and safely dropping supplies to them. There would be hazards to NATO planes if they were to undertake such a mission, and there would be a potential for the supplies to fall into the hands of the Serbs, who might use them as a lure to the refugees. We would also face the sheer difficulty of moving the amount of aid required. We continue to examine the options on that.
I put this powerful point to the House: the responsibility for the human tragedy inside Kosovo, including the miseries being inflicted on those who have been displaced, lies purely with the Serbian leadership, and Slobodan Milosevic in particular. He will be held to account for what happens to those human beings. Frankly, those who are in danger will cease to be in danger only if the campaign of air strikes organised by the 19 Governments, the 19 nations, the 19 Parliaments of NATO is a success.
Hon. Members have raised the issue of the costs of the campaign, which I cannot pretend will not be significant. The estimated costs will be substantial, but I ask the House to consider the cost of not acting. What would be the cost to all of us on our continent and, indeed, beyond, if we were to stand by, wring our hands, and allow such ethnic cleansing to go ahead and succeed? I estimate that, up until 8 April, the costs that have been incurred total some £17 million, excluding the costs of replenishing stocks of ordnance expended.
The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) mentioned the cost of humanitarian assistance partly being met by the Department for International Development. I say to him, as I say to those who ask about the defence budget, that, of course, access to the contingency reserve will be sought by the Ministers concerned in the normal way.
A very important issue has been raised both in the House and elsewhere: how NATO selects and clears the targets assigned to aircraft. At the outset of the air campaign, NATO Ministers collectively agreed to certain categories of targets—the first of which was, self-evidently, the Yugoslav air defences. We subsequently agreed to widen the range of targets to include strategic assets such as bridges, barracks and headquarters.
Within those broad categories, an assessment is made of priorities. One of the main factors in reaching decisions is the possibility of causing civilian casualties or damage to civilian buildings—known as collateral damage. More than in any other previous campaign we have used precision-guided munitions to ensure that such damage is avoided.
I personally approve some of the targets, but for most, I have now delegated the decisions to the operational commanders. That allows them to make decisions quickly and to respond to changing requirements. However, I retain the ultimate authority and responsibility for those decisions.
Following a number of tests, the Royal Air Force was able to demonstrate that it had the ability, with the use of dumb bombs, to bomb accurately through clouds with Harrier GR7s. It has subsequently undertaken a number of successful operations against particular targets. Such targets are obviously considered very carefully to minimise—
|Division No. 145]||[9.58 pm|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Wareing, Robert N|
|Galloway, George||Wise, Audrey|
|Gerrard, Neil||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Mr. Bill Michie and|
|Marshall-Andrews, Robert||Mr. John McDonnell.|
|Tellers for the Noes:|
|Mr. Mike Hall|
|Mr. David Jamieson.|