NATO Summit

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 26th April 1999.

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Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister 3:31 pm, 26th April 1999

With permission, I will make a statement on the NATO summit in Washington on 23 to 25 April. I was accompanied by the Foreign and Defence Secretaries and the Chief of the Defence Staff. Copies of the Washington declaration, the alliance's new strategic concept, the summit communiqué, our separate statement on Kosovo and other summit documents are being placed in the Library of the House.

The summit was naturally dominated by Kosovo. NATO reaffirmed its basic and unalterable demands: Milosevic must withdraw his troops and paramilitaries; an international military force must be deployed; and the refugees must be returned in peace and security to their homeland. The communiqué on Kosovo made it clear that these demands will not be compromised.

NATO decided that the air campaign should be intensified, that the number of aircraft and targets should be expanded and that the economic measures against Belgrade should be increased. In particular, we agreed an embargo on oil, to be made effective by the measures that were necessary, including maritime operations.

There was also discussion on the circumstances in which ground troops would be deployed. As I said to the House of Commons last week, the difficulties of a land force invasion of Kosovo against undegraded Serb resistance remain, but Milosevic has no veto over NATO's actions. It was agreed at the summit that the Secretary-General of NATO and the military planners should now update their assessments of all contingencies. Meanwhile, the build-up of forces in the region continues.

In addition, we agreed to provide all assistance to the International War Crimes Tribunal in respect of the atrocities committed against Kosovar Albanians. We also warned Belgrade against any move to undermine the democratically elected Government of President Djukanovic in Montenegro.

NATO's military commanders, General Clark and General Naumann, briefed the summit on the progress of the air campaign. NATO has largely isolated the Kosovo battlefield, and built what General Naumann described as a ring of steel around the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: 690 aircraft and 20 ships are now deployed, more than double the force at the outset of this campaign. Half the key Serb fighter planes are now destroyed. FRY air defences are ineffective, with more than 70 aircraft and some 40 per cent. of SAM3s and 25 per cent. of SAM6s destroyed.

Oil refining and distribution have been massively disrupted, which has already led to Serb operations in Kosovo being halted on several occasions in the past two weeks. The day before the summit meeting, six tanks, 27 military vehicles and an infantry column had all been destroyed in Kosovo. These operations continue and, as the weather clears and more attack weapons arrive, that type of action will become a daily occurrence.

Russian efforts to find a diplomatic solution to this crisis are welcome, but there can be no alteration to our fundamental demands.

NATO will also continue its efforts to relieve the humanitarian crisis that Milosevic has cynically provoked in and around Kosovo. NATO troops have helped deliver 11,000 tonnes of aid, and provided food and shelter to some 85,000 refugees. I met the Presidents of Albania and Macedonia, and pledged Britain's support for them in dealing with the refugee crisis that Milosevic's repression has created.

The full extent of the horrific repression by Serb forces in Kosovo is only now emerging. There has been organised systematic rape of women, usually in front of husbands and children. Young men have been forced to dig graves, and then shot. Whole villages have been razed to the ground. Some of the stories of the cruelty and barbarity practised by Serb militia are evil beyond belief. We have heard reports of Kosovars hiding in the hills for weeks and having to walk for days to escape Serb repression. Some—particularly children and the elderly—died as they tried to escape. Some who have escaped—including children—have reached safety with bullet or shrapnel wounds inflicted by Serb forces. The UNHCRthe United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—has today substantiated reports that women and children are now being used as human shields, including in a building used to store ammunition. Those acts remain the essential justification for NATO's actions.

In the meeting with the leaders of the seven non-NATO countries neighbouring Serbia, we were united in our resolve to strengthen efforts to promote stability and development in south-east Europe. For their part, what was remarkable was the view of the front-line states that the NATO action was just, and that NATO must win. Milosevic is now a pariah even in his own region.

We also looked ahead at means of contributing to the long-term stability of all the Balkan states. At our initiative, NATO leaders agreed to establish a regional security forum for south-east Europe between NATO and the countries of that region. It was agreed that NATO should work together with the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Union and the international financial institutions in that endeavour.

The summit had an important agenda before it-quite apart from the Kosovo crisis. It was the occasion on which to adapt the alliance to meet future needs and challenges. Although NATO's fundamental role will remain the defence and security of the allies, there was an equally strong consensus on the need for a more capable and flexible alliance, able to contribute to security throughout the Euro-Atlantic area and to promote the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law for which NATO has stood since its foundation. In doing that, member states reaffirmed their commitment to the Washington treaty and to the United Nations charter.

We approved an updated strategic concept, which set out the fundamental security tasks of the alliance and how we intend to fulfil them. Common defence and the transatlantic link will, of course, remain the bedrock of the alliance. However, the new strategic concept recognises that in today's world, the ability to respond to crises and develop partnership with countries that were once our adversaries is crucial to our interests and to the promotion of our values. The strategic concept also provides top-level guidance for the restructuring of alliance military forces. The defence capabilities initiative, agreed at the summit, will give effect to that by adapting and modernising NATO's capabilities along similar lines to this country's strategic defence review.

The strong partnership between the European and north American members of the alliance is the key to the success of NATO and to our security. The summit unanimously welcomed and endorsed the initiative, which President Chirac and I launched at our summit last December in St. Malo, to develop a European defence capability for crisis management operations where the alliance as a whole is not engaged.

A stronger European capability will strengthen NATO and is fully compatible with our commitment to NATO. Making NATO a more balanced partnership will strengthen the essential transatlantic link. The alliance stands ready, as the EU defines its defence arrangements, to make NATO force planning, NATO assets and NATO headquarters available for EU-led crisis management operations, subject to the necessary approval of the North Atlantic Council. We emphasised the importance of involving fully in that process those allies that are not members of the EU. Those decisions will ensure that NATO and European capabilities develop in a fully compatible manner.

In Washington, we welcomed for the first time at a NATO summit the leaders of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic—the alliance's new members. We reaffirmed the alliance's continuing openness to new members and agreed a new membership action plan for countries that aspire to join the alliance.

We met the Heads of Government of 23 non-NATO nations in a summit meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council which showed the breadth of support of the alliance's efforts to spread security and stability throughout the Euro-Atlantic area. Regrettably, Russia was not represented at that meeting. However, throughout our discussions and in the communiqué, we made clear our wish to work co-operatively with Russia on a wide range of security issues and to resume regular NATO consultation and co-operation with Russia in the Permanent Joint Council.

There were two key outcomes of the summit. First, a new vision for the future of NATO was set out, of new roles for NATO, new capability and new partnership with the nations of central and eastern Europe and beyond in central Asia. Secondly, there was the total and unified commitment of all the members of the alliance to defeat and to reverse the policy of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Each leader began his statement by saying that NATO will and must prevail. It is now our collective task to make that victory—a victory of justice over evil—a reality for Kosovo's long-suffering people.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Leader of HM Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

I pay tribute to NATO's achievements. The alliance has given us peace in western Europe for 50 years and played the major part in winning the cold war. Now, it has new challenges, and there was no more dramatic sign of that than the arrival of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic at the summit.

We welcome the announcement of the defence agreement with Macedonia and Albania, and of the security forum with other neighbouring states. We continue to support the NATO action in Kosovo, and share the horror throughout the House at what has happened there. We believe that it is vital that NATO finishes what it has started. We again pay tribute to the courage of our service men, who risk their lives there every day. Does the Prime Minister agree that what they need at all times as they carry out their difficult job is clarity about objectives and policy?

I should like clarification of four sets of issues relating to the NATO summit, the first of which is the possible use of ground troops. Last week, the Prime Minister signalled a change in the position—a change in the language—in respect of the use of ground troops. He ruled out a land force invasion against an "undegraded"—the same word he used today—or "organised" Serb military machine, and therefore appeared to imply that a land force could be deployed against a Serb army that was degraded or disorganised.

Does the Prime Minister accept that, although that approach may well be justified, it will require a fuller explanation than has so far been given to the House, as well as clear and achievable objectives? Can he explain what success he has had in convincing our NATO allies of the case for changing the policy? Is the use of ground forces now this country's preferred strategy? The use of ground forces would take some time to plan, assemble and implement, so does the Prime Minister accept that any decision in that respect would have to be made in the very near future, if that force were to be deployed, do its job and ensure that the refugees could return home before winter set in?

Secondly, I ask about the oil embargo, which also may well be justified. NATO has decided to board and inspect all ships; will the Prime Minister assure the House that there is a legal basis for that decision? What does NATO plan to do if the ships decline to be boarded? Will force be used? Does the Prime Minister accept the need for very clear terms of engagement for sailors who will be called on to make instant decisions to enforce such a policy? May we assume that those terms of engagement have been made clear to foreign Governments? Does the pursuit of that policy carry any implications for Russian ships and for relations with Russia?

Thirdly, on the question on the removal or the future of Milosevic, the Foreign Secretary said at the weekend that the politics of ethnic hatred could be securely defeated only when we get a change of regime in Belgrade", but he reiterated the fact that ousting Milosevic was not a NATO military objective. How are those two statements to be reconciled? Will the Prime Minister also clarify his comment last week that we shall carry on until Milosevic steps down?

Finally, there is a need for clarity, not only on the immediate tasks facing NATO, but on its long-term future. The Opposition strongly support a new and more flexible approach that frees the organisation from its cold war role, but where does the development of an EU-led, rather than a Western. European Union-led, capability leave countries such as Turkey—countries of vital strategic importance which are members of NATO, but not of the EU? How exactly will they be fully involved and kept fully informed in the way in which the Prime Minister outlined in his statement? The communiqué says that the European defence identity will be developed within the NATO structures, but the St. Malo agreement that the Prime Minister signed in December provided for the development of an EU defence identity inside or outside NATO. Are those two agreements reconciled easily?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his broad support of NATO's action.

Britain suggested that we should make it clear that Macedonia and Albania will receive support in whatever form they need it. It emerged from the summit that we need to provide those countries with substantial financial support through the European Union and elsewhere—and that will be done.

I pay tribute again to the courage shown by our service men and women in undertaking this military action and to the quite remarkable way in which they have assisted with the humanitarian effort. Wherever I go in the world and speak to people about the British troops in the Balkans, they say that they are stunned by the professionalism of our troops, their ability to react quickly and the way in which they really care for the refugees under their control. That reflects enormously well on our service men in every way.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the clarity of objectives. As to ground troops, I simply repeat what I said last week and two weeks before that. I think there is a limit—as I have said before—on the degree to which we should discuss every possibility of military tactics and strategy. We continue the air campaign; we do not rule out any options. The Secretary-General and NATO have been tasked with updating their assessments and plans. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we must begin consideration and planning, for all the reasons that have been given. That is being done.

It was decided to impose an effective oil blockade, and NATO has been asked to outline the precise circumstances in which we will intercept in a maritime or other sense. We must obviously ensure that there are proper rules of engagement and that our actions are compatible with international law. Reports must be made to NATO on those points.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out accurately the position regarding Milosevic. The five objectives that NATO set out at the outset remain. It is not an aim of the military action to remove Milosevic. However, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that, while Milosevic remains, the security situation of this region is more difficult. I think that is a statement of the obvious. The aims remain as we set them out.

The right hon. Gentleman made two final points. First, we were involved in very good discussions with Turkey in which we pointed out that it is to be involved in the decision-making process. It is important that, in developing a European strategic defence identity, we show sensitivity to countries outside the European Union. That is particularly important in the case of Turkey, which is such a valued member of the NATO alliance.

Secondly, as to the European defence initiative, the position remains as it is set out in the communiqué. In that communiqué, we make it absolutely clear that, although there will be circumstances in which the EU decides to act, they will be subject to full consultation with NATO. There is no question of NATO assets being used except with the consent of NATO. The purpose of the defence identity is to ensure that European common defence policy develops in a way that is fully compatible with NATO. There may be some in the European Union who are less sensitive to that issue than we are. However, we think it is important to get the NATO alliance's blessing regarding this defence initiative. It must be entirely clear that the European defence initiative and NATO are fully compatible and that the fundamental bedrock of this country's defence remains NATO.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

This was obviously a successful NATO conference. Unity is a priceless asset at this time. I have three topics to raise with the Prime Minister: front-line states, refugees and the military.

First, I am delighted that NATO has now emphasised the condition of front-line states. Is it not the case that, if Milosevic were to succeed in destabilising Macedonia and the Thessaloniki area of Greece, he could win in Kosovo without a shot being fired? If we are to ensure the security of our rear areas, we have to make it absolutely certain that we are particularly aware of the problems of poverty in Albania—which is bearing the heavy burden of refugees—the delicate ethnic balance in Macedonia and the difficulties that the Macedonian economy will face as a result of the imposition of sanctions on Belgrade.

I draw the Prime Minister's attention to Montenegro. If President Milosevic sought to use VJ—Yugoslav army—units to overturn the democratically elected Government of Montenegro, and Mr. Djukanovic were to ask NATO for assistance, would NATO give a constructive answer to such a request?

Secondly, on refugees, is it not the case that President Milosevic uses refugees as an instrument of war, so we have to be able to win on that battlefield as well? Frankly, the UNHCR has not yet got a grip on the situation in Macedonia and Albania. We may be able to assist the UNHCR with NATO troops, and I would be grateful if the Minister gave us an undertaking that we shall do that as long as necessary, particularly in providing heavy-lift ability from the Albanian border, which was nearly swamped 10 days ago.

On the military, I agree with the Prime Minister that we ought not to be broadcasting our shots and saying in detail what we should do. That is why I wish that we had not said, at the start, that we would not use ground troops. If there are to be troops on the ground, there must be clarity of mission and purpose. Unfortunately, the troops that we now have on the ground were designed, and have a mission designed, around the Rambouillet agreement. Certain elements of that agreement have simply been overtaken by events, so we must begin to update that mission and the posture.

Unless we are prepared soon to make a decision on the reinforcement of those troops against the contingency that we may have to use them on the ground, against whatever opposition there is, we may find that we have left it too late. Surely it would be a disaster if NATO were to achieve its air aims and give us an opportunity to use ground troops, but we had not made a decision early enough. Would that not be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

On the latter point, I agree that that is precisely why it is important that the Secretary-General and NATO are now undertaking their assessments. In any event, there is a continuing build-up of forces in the region.

I want to make two points about the front-line states. First, if I had any doubt about the necessity for our action—which I do not—hearing representatives of the front-line states speak at the meeting would have removed that doubt. Those people are in the front line and bear the burden of living next to Milosevic. They experience difficulties with their public opinion and attempts to destabilise their Governments and suffer the economic consequences of the events.

The front-line states have no doubt that NATO has to succeed or that Milosevic stands in the way of the future that they want for south-east Europe. That future is as part of Europe and, in many cases, part of NATO, and it is a future in which there should also be a place for a democratic Serbia. All that is possible. The impassioned speeches of those people, many of whom have difficulties at home, were the most eloquent testimony to the need to continue the action and see it through.

On the money for Albania and Macedonia, we have agreed 100 million euro of immediate budgetary aid for Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, and 150 million euro of humanitarian assistance, but we are also considering giving those states bilateral and other assistance. So we know that we have a financial commitment, which we must stand behind, to those countries. I believe that they were greatly helped by the sense of obligation among the NATO states.

In respect of Montenegro, I can only repeat what is in the NATO communiqué—that grave consequences would follow any attempt by Milosevic to destabilise that regime. I think we know that Montenegro has been a bastion of democracy against Milosevic, and it is important that we give it every support that we possibly can.

Refugees have been used as an instrument of war. NATO troops are ready to help the UNHCR. There are still some shortcomings—which we need to deal within the way in which that procedure is operating, although I pay tribute to our Department for International Development, which has done a magnificent job in helping. Were it not for the British troop contribution and the contribution of DFID, the situation would be much more serious.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

It is clearly vital to deny the Serb war machine the fuel supplies on which it relies. How can that be done without destabilising the democratic Government in Montenegro, and what assessment has been made of the response of Russia to such a blockade of its ships?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

It was precisely because of the sensitivity of Montenegro that we made mention of maritime operations. As the communiqué says, we shall look at all the ways that we can do so with sensitivity to the situation for Montenegro. In the end, however, the single best security that Montenegro can have is a swift and successful prosecution of this NATO allied effort.

A desire to keep Russia engaged emerged very strongly from the summit. We have made every effort to open lines of communication, and to keep them open. It is now clear that Russia essentially—with some differences of opinion over the nature of the international force—supports the NATO aims and demands. It disagrees, it is true, with the action that is being taken, but the fact that Russia is in that position is significant in itself, and—as I made clear—we must go out of our way to demonstrate, not just our sensitivity to Russian concerns, but our desire to make Russia part of the solution.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I strongly support what the Prime Minister just said about giving proper respect to the views of Russia.

I previously raised the question of the Secretary-General having given a security guarantee to neighbouring states. Do I understand from this communiqué that that has now been confirmed by the NATO summit in respect of any aggression from Milosevic?

May I ask the Prime Minister about something that he has not mentioned in his statement? Milosevic regarded the presence of the Kosovo Liberation Army as the one immediate obstacle on the ground to his policy of total ethnic cleansing. What is the position of NATO on the KLA? A recent report in Jane's Intelligence Review says that there are on the ground 24,000 KLA troops of one sort or another. Is it NATO's policy, in the present situation—in advance of any other ground troops—to give any help that it can to the KLA and the rapidly increasing number of recruits coming from other parts of the world, willing to defend Kosovar interests in Kosovo?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

In respect of the KLA, the position remains as it is, in part because of the UN resolutions, although it is true that the KLA is having greater success on the ground in Kosovo, and indeed has retaken certain parts of it.

In respect of the Secretary-General and the assurances given to neighbouring states, I simply refer the right hon. Gentleman to the language in the communiqué. Milosevic should be under no doubt at all that we recognise our obligation to those surrounding states; that is what I take the words "grave consequences" to mean.

In respect of Russia, we have made a series of efforts to get a message through to it. I have spoken in the Russian media. In the speech that I made in Chicago the other night, I went out of my way to say that I think that we should be presenting a proper economic package to the G8 summit in Cologne. Of course, we must ensure that any assistance given is properly used. 1 think that we should almost use these events as an opportunity to renew our commitment to helping Russia make the transition. If we do that, one good will have come out of this situation.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn Labour, Chesterfield

Is the Prime Minister aware that the absolute human calamity that we see on our screens every day, which has become much worse since the bombing began, makes a contrast in our minds between the sums of money paid to help the refugees, running into millions of pounds, and the cost of the war, which is running into billions and billions of pounds? It is clearly creating in Yugoslavia a humanitarian crisis that, with the destruction of its infrastructure, will be much, much more serious than anybody realises.

Will my right hon. Friend explain why it was that the French vetoed at the Washington meeting the idea of a blockade? Will he indicate whether the NATO Ministers agreed in principle to the use of ground troops, or is that an issue on which they are not yet agreed?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

In respect of the last two points, the position on ground troops is as I set it out, and the Secretary-General has been tasked with undertaking the planning and assessment, as I have pointed out. The French have not issued a veto on the oil blockade. That blockade is the unanimous desire of all member states. Indeed, within the past hour, the European Union has issued a list of further economic sanctions.

There is no doubt that the conflict is expensive to prosecute. However, the policy of ethnic cleansing began before a NATO bomb ever dropped. We have just presented a series of pieces of evidence to the International War Crimes Tribunal, which is based on the details that we have received from the Kosovar Albanian refugees. I have it before me. There are pages upon pages reporting incidents of unbelievable atrocities, cruelty and barbarity carried out under Milosevic's express orders.

The campaign waged by the Serb militia and the paramilitaries in Kosovo is a deliberate act of policy. In the end, I agree that war is a nasty and expensive business. However, the choice is, and always has been, that either we allow Milosevic to do this unhindered or we stop him. The front-line states—this made the greatest impression on me throughout the summer—know that, if he had been able to carry out this policy of repression in the name of Serbian nationalism in Kosovo, the entire region would have been destabilised. We have a mission to defeat the policy of ethnic cleansing, and we must do everything that is necessary to see it through.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

Will the right hon. Gentleman give further consideration to his answer about the position of Milosevic? Given the appalling atrocities for which he bears direct responsibility, is it not inconceivable that Milosevic should remain as Head of State in any circumstances when this war is over?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

The aims remain as they are. However, I said earlier that, first, I do not regard these aims as a matter of negotiation with Milosevic and that, secondly, there is no doubt that the security of the region remains at risk while he remains in power. This is NATO action and it is taken on the basis of the demands that we set out, and those remain the objectives.

Photo of Rachel Squire Rachel Squire Labour, Dunfermline West

I join my right hon. Friend in particularly welcoming his support of the front-line states, which are dealing daily with the threats and human consequences of Milosevic's brutal regime. Does my right hon. Friend agree that their support for NATO gives a sign of how successful NATO has been as a military alliance for the past 50 years? Does he further agree that those of us who have grown up in western Europe since the end of the second world war should not forget that the peace and security that we take for granted in our daily lives have been delivered largely by NATO?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I agree entirely with those sentiments and would add two things. First, let us never forget that 250,000 people died as a result of the Bosnian conflict and 3.25 million people are refugees as a result of Milosevic's earlier actions. Therefore, allowing him to carry on that policy now would be gravely irresponsible.

Secondly, NATO has been a success, without any doubt. It will continue to be a success if it succeeds in setting its course and direction against this policy of ethnic cleansing. If NATO succeeds, the next time someone tries such a policy and we make a threat it will be credible. Were we to fail—which we will not and must not—the opposite would happen: people would know that, when NATO threatened, it would not be a threat to be taken seriously. That is why people do not talk about NATO's credibility in some abstract sense; it is a necessary part of building peace and security for the long term.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury

I join the Prime Minister is his condemnation of President Milosevic, but is it none the less the case that any settlement in Kosovo that is deeply objectionable to the bulk of the Serb people would not stick and would eventually be a recipe for trouble—year after year and generation after generation?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

In France, at the Rambouillet talks, we had a solution that would and should have been acceptable to the Serbian people. It was rejected by Milosevic. If anyone is responsible for the present situation, it is him; but I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. I cannot imagine anything more irresponsible than entering into an agreement guaranteeing the rights of people in Kosovo only with the permission of Milosevic.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

In what circumstances would NATO or the Government seek a mandate from the United Nations to put in ground troops? Is the Prime Minister aware that many of us who support the broad thrust of policy are nevertheless somewhat unhappy and find some difficulty in respect of our mandate?

There is provision in the UN charter—the uniting for peace procedure—whereby a special meeting of the General Assembly of the UN can be called to give a mandate. Will that be considered as one of the options in relation to the general policy and, specifically, can we be assured that, whether troops go in to broker peace or go in as peacekeepers, an attempt will be made to get the support of the UN—either at Security Council or at General Assembly level—particularly in view of the increasing marginalisation of Russia, which is felt in that country?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

The way to answer that is to say again that we keep in close touch with the UN. The Secretary-General has been involved and has essentially backed the NATO demands. There is a difficulty with saying that we will only ever act with a UN mandate, for reasons that are obvious to people. Of course we always prefer to act in such a way, but the action that we have taken is justified in its own terms and we believe that it is lawful in its own terms. That does not mean that we do not work closely with the UN and, indeed, with Russia. That is precisely what we are doing.

Photo of Mr Martin Bell Mr Martin Bell Independent, Tatton

I wonder whether we can ask for a little more clarity about targeting; we need it because last week, for the first time, NATO attacked a target—the television station in Belgrade—which could not have been destroyed but for the certainty of killing civilians inside it. With that attack, NATO crossed a rubicon which, in my judgment, should not have been crossed. If we are unwilling to adopt a conclusive strategy—which, as the Prime Minister knows very well, includes the use of ground troops—surely we have to spare the innocent civilians.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

People cannot have this all ways round, I am afraid. The television stations and the Serbian media are part of the Milosevic power apparatus—part of the apparatus that keeps him in power and allows his dictatorship to carry out the policies of ethnic cleansing. I have no doubt at all that action was justified. We do everything we can to minimise civilian casualties, but I am afraid that a conflict such as this is an unpleasant business. There is no nice way of conducting it. What is important is to conduct it in such a way that we leave Milosevic and his regime in no doubt that we will carry on pounding every part of that regime day after day until it accedes to the NATO demands. That is the only thing that we can do. The best answer to people who accuse us of risking civilian casualties is to say that we do everything that we can to avoid civilian casualties. Compare and contrast that with the deliberate and brutal murder of people in Kosovo.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

If the Prime Minister is so certain about the states in the region, why are the Austrians denying NATO air space? Why are the Greeks denying NATO the use of the port of Thessaloniki and why has the mayor of Athens said that not a dock worker will lift a finger to help NATO in the port of Piraeus? When the Prime Minister answered the Leader of the Opposition, he talked about proper rules of engagement, and when he answered the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he said that every effort would be made to keep the lines of communication open. Let us suppose that a Russian oil ship were challenged entering the port of Bar or somewhere else in the Adriatic and refused to accept that challenge, what would then happen?

Finally, may I say to the Prime Minister that some of us—it may be a minority—are utterly, utterly appalled that he should have been the hawk in Washington?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

First, in respect of Austria, the point about air space is in its constitution. Actually, Austria has been fully supportive of the NATO action. Secondly, the Greek Government are not denying NATO the use of Thessaloniki. Thirdly, I have already said that NATO has been charged with looking at how the oil blockade is conducted properly in accordance with international law. We would be fundamentally lacking in seriousness if we were undertaking military action and trying to cut off the oil supplies that Milosevic needs in order to have his tanks and other military vehicles carry out that appalling repression on the ground in Kosovo, without taking every possible measure to deny him the fuel. That would be utterly irresponsible. The better that embargo is, the swifter the resolution of the conflict will be.

As for being a hawk, it has nothing to do with that. I happen to believe that we are right to take this action. Having done so, we must see it through. It is as simple as that. I simply ask my hon. Friend to read the account that we shall submit to the International War Crimes Tribunal of what those people have done. Page after page shows that, in whole villages, people have been driven out at the point of a gun, if they are lucky, or murdered on the spot, if they are not lucky. Some of the tales of brutality towards the women on the part of the Serb militia are just unbelievable.

We cannot deny those facts. They are happening. We either do nothing and say that this can carry on—in the south-east of Europe—or we act. There are no easy options, which is why, for nine months, we tried to find a diplomatic solution. We bent over backwards to get a diplomatic solution. Possibly, we did more than we should have done; but we did it because we knew that, once a conflict starts, those ghastly things happen. We knew that there would be civilian casualties—there always are in a conflict such as this—but we cannot allow a policy of racial genocide to continue unchecked in Europe. If we did that, everyone who believes in the principles of my political party would feel a sense of betrayal.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

As I was in the United States in the past few days, I welcome the Prime Minister's efforts to strengthen the body politic of the United States. First, is he absolutely convinced that the American President understands that this venture, now launched, will almost certainly require ground forces, and will the American President therefore lead American public opinion? Secondly, in his statement, the Prime Minister referred to "international military force" going into Kosovo. Did he mean a NATO-led force, which might well have international support? Lastly, I welcome the NATO statement on links with the European Union; but was it apparent from all the members of both organisations—NATO and the EU—that the European countries would probably need to increase their defence effort over the next few years, certainly if EU efforts were to be credible in any future ventures?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I have found America, and the American President in particular, to be absolutely staunch throughout this action. Let us be quite clear: this action would not be happening without the strength and support of the United States of America. I believe that the leadership that has been shown by America is wholly welcome and will remain. On the issue of the international military force, as I said in answer to questions last week, we believe that other nations could be involved, but it must have a NATO core.

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about the defence effort. EU countries will have to give serious consideration to what the defence capability in Europe should be in the next few years, as will other NATO countries. The strategic defence review puts us at the head of the game by quite a considerable distance—that is recognised by most of the other NATO countries—because it expands the elements of strategic capability that we need for such operations. The hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that, if we are to develop any sense of a proper European common defence policy, we must realise that that begins with capability.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most hon. Members applaud the unity and determination of the NATO alliance to ensure its objectives in Kosovo? Is he also aware that many of us believe that, sooner or later, considerable numbers of ground troops will be required in Kosovo if the Kosovar refugees are to return home?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I believe that there is support for our objectives in the House. I do not want to add to what I have already said about ground troops, except to say that it is important for people to understand that the air campaign would, in any event and on any basis, be carrying on now. That campaign is being intensified, and, as the weather clears, it can be made more effective. It is possible both to exaggerate and to understate its impact. It is having a huge impact on Milosevic's military capability, and it is important that it continues and intensifies.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party, Perth

With specific reference to the decision on the oil embargo, the Prime Minister will be aware of recent reports suggesting that, among others, Texaco shipped oil from west Wales to Serbia some three weeks after the bombing started, that the French were delivering diesel as recently as 21 April, that the Italians and Greeks have continued to supply oil and that the Hungarians shipped Russian oil at the beginning of April.

Given the Prime Minister's remarks about being taken seriously on the imposition of the oil embargo, will he explain why these deliveries have been allowed to continue, particularly from countries with NATO membership? What does he think should be done with the profits that the companies have made from those deliveries? Has not an oil embargo always been one of the most effective sanctions against Serbia? Why was the decision to impose an embargo not taken considerably earlier?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

It is precisely to make the oil embargo effective that the European Union has made it clear that all its members are expected to ensure and police the effectiveness of the oil embargo. That was the reason for the NATO statement. The idea that economic sanctions or the oil embargo alone would stop Milosevic is pie in the sky and naive beyond belief. We require the economic blockade and the oil embargo alongside other measures that are being taken. That is the only realistic way of defeating Milosevic.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies Labour, Llanelli

When will the oil embargo commence? Will it involve, if necessary, the stopping and even the seizure of Russian ships carrying oil?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

European Union members are committed to ensuring that no oil reaches the Serbian regime. As I said earlier, the NATO planners are charged with ensuring that the oil embargo is carried out in accordance with international law. I repeat to people who raise the issue of Russia to cause difficulties over the oil embargo that we would be very foolish if we conducted this air campaign without taking every measure possible to cut off the supply of fuel to Milosevic's regime.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

In his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), the Prime Minister used the phrase "NATO core". In the past, we have heard references to a NATO-led peacekeeping force. At the NATO summit, were there any discussions about the make-up of the peacekeeping force to try to bring the Russians on side? They are the key to the process.

It may well be true that NATO has to leave a force in the bulk of Kosovo, for obvious reasons, but was there any discussion of the possibility of a Russian-led peacekeeping force operating in areas of Kosovo, particularly those adjacent to Pec, near the monasteries, which are sacred to the Serb nation and the whole Orthodox world? That might reassure Serbia and her allies, and thus secure a settlement that would be accepted by both sides.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman referred to areas that are sensitive for the Serb minority. I shall not go into the details of which parts of the international force, when it arrives, will go into which areas to police them; that will be discussed at a later stage. It is, however, important for us to state constantly that our policy is to ensure that people in Kosovo, whether they are Serbs or Kosovar Albanians, can live in peace. That is an important part of our objectives. We are not fighting a battle on behalf of one ethnic community against another; we are fighting a battle for all ethnic communities to enjoy the same rights and freedoms.

I use the terms "NATO core" and "NATO-led force" interchangeably. As for the involvement of Russian troops, we have suggested that Russia could be part of such a force, and there are precedents for it.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

Given that more than half a million people in Serbia are on-line on the internet, and given that CNN and BBC News 24 are listened to by perhaps millions of people there, is it not clear that ignorance can no longer be an excuse? Those people know exactly what is happening in Kosovo. That being the case, why does NATO not take a more hawkish line in its selection of targets and start to attack centres of public administration, so that public confidence in the state can be broken down in that society?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

We believe that a large part of the population is completely in the grip of the Serb-controlled media. My hon. Friend will know that, just a few days ago, one of the most respected editors of a newspaper opposed to Milosevic was murdered. That is how Milosevic deals with people who oppose him in the media. As for the targets, they are carefully chosen when there is a civilian element, but the target is part of Milosevic's power apparatus. I think that they are the right targets.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

In eastern Poland, during the second world war, my family underwent an experience very similar to the ordeal suffered by the Kosovars today. The handful who survived were rescued by Russian ground forces. No amount of aerial bombardment could have saved them. Milosevic should not have been told at the beginning that the use of ground forces was out of the question. Will the Prime Minister now reverse the statement that he made at the beginning of the crisis?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I have set out the position relating to ground forces, and I see no reason to go over it again. However, let me say to the hon. Gentleman— I know and respect his reasons for feeling strongly—that, even if we had committed ourselves to any number of land force invasions at the very beginning, we would be where we are now. The important thing is to ensure that we conduct all the necessary assessments, and continue to build up forces in the region.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax

In the event of a blockade of Yugoslavia, will NATO stop by force Russian ships from delivering oil or other goods to the port of Bar in Montenegro?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I have said in answer to earlier questions that NATO has charged its planners with coming back with a way of ensuring that the oil embargo is satisfactory, consistent with international law, and I really do not intend to add to that.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

When the Prime Minister spoke of NATO's new strategic concept, he referred to the Euro-Atlantic area. Are we to take that to mean that NATO is still a regional security organisation? Bearing in mind the reach of intercontinental strategic missiles, their proliferation around the world and Britain's worldwide national interests, may we take it that NATO can perform operations out of area? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the mandate required? Is it possible for NATO to mandate itself through the North Atlantic Council, or will a mandate always require a United Nations Security Council resolution? If the latter, will NATO not become a United Nations enforcement force?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

In respect of the hon. Gentleman's latter point, we state in the communiqué that of course we want to act with United Nations support, which is important. However, we cannot—as we are not doing in Kosovo—say that those are the only circumstances in which we shall ever act.

We are still essentially a regional alliance. However, NATO is changing and adapting, because the world in which we live is changing and adapting. The fact is that, 15 years ago, or even 10 years ago, NATO's purpose—which arose out of the cold war—was very clear; today, the position is different. The purpose of the new strategic concept is to allow us the flexibility, when we believe it necessary, to take other action. In the communiqué , we set out some of the circumstances in which that might apply. However, no, that does not change the basic nature of the alliance.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

The House will have been moved by the Prime Minister's description and definition of what constitutes ethnic cleansing—barbarity, cruelty, brutality and the human calamity to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) referred. That type of suffering is not a once-in-a-lifetime matter, but—for those who have suffered it—lasts for a whole lifetime.

The Prime Minister mentioned an enhanced European capability for the European Union. Does he agree that a common foreign and defence policy for the Union is evolving?

Those who have listened to this debate will have heard the encouragement that the Prime Minister has given to Russia. Will he comment and elaborate on the visit of a high-ranking United States diplomat to Viktor Chernomyrdin, and agree that that line of communication should be kept open?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

On the latter point, all lines of communication remain open. The purpose of the visit is obviously to continue to keep Russia engaged, and to try to ensure that Russia understands that we have no quarrel with the Russian people. However, we believe that the demands have to be met in full. Moreover, as I said, those demands are now very largely supported by Russia itself.

My hon. Friend was right on European capability. The common foreign and security policy is an agreement into which the European Union has entered. I think that we shall learn many lessons from the conflict in Kosovo about how that policy should be conducted in future.

Several hon. Members: