Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:28 pm on 18 May 1999.

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Photo of Mr Martin Bell Mr Martin Bell Independent, Tatton 8:28, 18 May 1999

I promise to give the shortest speech of the evening, and I hope that I may be listened to for three minutes or so. It is clear to those of us who have argued from the start for the all-or-nothing strategy that the present strategy is not working. Not only is it not achieving its objectives, but the reverse is being achieved. We intended to help the Albanians of Kosovo. Unfortunately, their plight has been worsened as a result of the NATO intervention. We hoped to weaken Milosevic. My feeling is that, as far as his domestic political situation is concerned, Milosevic has been strengthened. The only others to have benefited are our military academies, which now have a textbook case of how not to wage a campaign.

The targeting of civilians worries many people, myself included. A campaign waged from 15,000 ft has to be indiscriminate, whatever its intentions. I am especially alarmed that, every Friday, with almost metronomic regularity, we appear to hand the Serbs a gift-wrapped propaganda advantage. In one case—the targeting of the television station—we attacked a civilian installation that had to have civilians in it. Civilians were bound to be killed and civilians were killed. In my view, that was in breach of the Geneva conventions. Yes, the television station was telling lies, but the answer to lies is not missiles: the answer to lies is truths.

If ground troops go in, a permissive environment or semi-permissive environment is proposed. Just as there is no recorded example in history of air fire alone achieving a decisive result, so there is no precedent in the long history of the British at war of a permissive environment. Henry V did not seek a permissive environment at Agincourt, neither did Wellington at Waterloo. The beaches of Normandy were not a permissive environment, and neither was Goose Green or Port Stanley.

I have argued from the start that we either stay all the way out and work with diplomacy, or we go all the way in with an all-arms offensive. It may be too late. All I would add is that, if we wage half a war, we shall not achieve half a victory—we are more likely to achieve three quarters of a defeat.