Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:40 pm on 19th April 1999.

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Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence 9:40 pm, 19th April 1999

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.