NATO Summit

Part of the debate – 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.