Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 1080 - 1092)



Mr Gapes

  1080. Two questions. Getting back to these possible invasion routes, there was a former CIA Director whose name escapes me who argued that going through Hungary was a way to go and presumably Austria would have been relatively supportive given its EU position.
  (Lord Gilbert) Do you not have to go through Slovakia?

  1081. Slovakia clearly wants to be in NATO and feels out of things because it is not in the first wave and has been put back. Was there not a political case? I suspect the Hungarians would have been more resistant but the argument that you gave about the neighbouring states, I would be interested to know whether that was the real reason.
  (Lord Gilbert) I merely pointed out that that is a fact. I think you are probably right, Mr Gapes, that the real problem would have been for the Hungarians who had compatriots in large numbers living in Vojvodina.

  1082. The second question—
  (Lord Gilbert) Forgive me. There is no reason why you should not do it that way in military terms. If you wanted to get the Serb forces out of Kosovo you were approaching them from the point in Serbia furthest away from Kosovo coming from the north.

  1083. If Serbia wants to defend Serbia against invasion it will soon move them out of Kosovo.
  (Lord Gilbert) I think that is a perfectly fair point.

  1084. The second point is about the KLA. Various things have come to us in this evidence we have taken so far. My impression is that a relatively well armed uniformed force came from virtually nowhere and all the questions we have asked about that in the past people have put a block on, it is as though "we do not talk about that" or "we do not have a view about that". I am interested to know what level of co-ordination there was in terms of the ground offensive by the KLA in the way that was all happening and also really how much support was being given from NATO countries, particularly the United States, to the KLA.
  (Lord Gilbert) I am afraid I am going to be one of your wimps on this one, I do not know. If I did I would be happy to discuss it with you. I suspect there was some financial support from Middle Eastern countries and other Muslim countries.

Mr Hancock

  1085. There are a lot of Albanians outside.
  (Lord Gilbert) It was, in the eyes of a lot of people, a religious war, as I am sure you know.

  1086. What about what General Naumann told us when he was here two weeks ago? He said that he believed as the Chairman of the Committee that Milosevic, despite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing around the edges, had honoured the October Agreement by removing his troops from Kosovo and then the void was filled by the KLA going in and committing atrocities and abuses against the Serbs which then left Milosevic in the precarious position of either sitting back and allowing that to continue or to react. The suggestion he was putting forward was that the KLA manufactured the final NATO involvement there by taking that line when they did. If that was the case, did no-one see that coming?
  (Lord Gilbert) I think certain people were spoiling for a fight in NATO at that time, ***. If you ask my personal view, I think the terms put to Milosevic at Rambouillet were absolutely intolerable; how could he possibly accept them; it was quite deliberate. That does not excuse an awful lot of other things, but we were at a point when some people felt that something had to be done, so you just provoked a fight.


  1087. Was the conflict avoidable?
  (Lord Gilbert) Chairman, yes, I suppose the answer has to be that, but on what terms is very difficult to say. Was the conflict avoidable without Milosevic behaving in the way he subsequently did in Kosovo? Would he have done the same thing in Kosovo if it had spread it out over a period of five years rather than a few months? If you will forgive me, I think that is an almost impossible question to answer.

  1088. Fair enough. John, when we were both involved in the aftermath of the Falklands one of the many areas that we had to take a line around was on psychological operations. Nobody put their hands up to actually having any responsibility but you managed to get them, through pressure on them, at least to give us transcripts of Radio Atlantico, Dell and SUR. We have not got the slightest idea how psyops are organised in NATO or the Ministry of Defence, if there is such an organisation. Could you tell us are psyops directed against a domestic audience or against adversaries? How successful was it? How do we find out how successful or otherwise it was?
  (Lord Gilbert) I have a lot of sympathy with you in your difficulty, Chairman. I was trying very hard to find that out when in the Ministry of Defence and my formal responsibilities did include intelligence and security matters under the Secretary of State of course. One of the things that I regret about the MoD document, Lessons from the Crisis,[3] is that there is no mention of psyops that I can find in it at all. The nearest you get to it is on page 30 where there is a discussion of IW but that is not the same thing at all. When the Ministry of Defence is talking about IW it means intercepting communications and screwing up people's computer systems and telephone systems and all of that. I was asking questions about psyops from the very beginning. I think there was certainly a feeling on the part of some senior people in the Ministry of Defence that psyops meant telling untruths, telling falsehoods, and therefore these were things that should be avoided and were very, very dangerous. I used to take what I had always understood to be Churchill's view of these matters, namely in war it is permissable to deceive your own people, it is obligatory to deceive your enemy and one thing you should never, never do is deceive your allies. I think that is not a bad basic rule. There was a certain sensitivity within the Ministry of Defence. ***. The structure, as far as I knew, was as follows. I am sorry this is very patchy and incomplete. ***. Presumably the Americans have some psyops base there. I was also told that at the beginning at any rate every single NATO leaflet was approved personally by General Clark. I do not know if that is true but that is what I was told. We were also told that in the first five days, I think, my memory is a little hazy so do not hold me to the figures, ***. I can remember also being told "awfully sorry, our Hercules are not adapted to dropping leaflets" and you will probably understand that this is a highly technical thing, dropping leaflets and so on. And, of course, everything was supposed to be done from 15,000 feet at that time, as you are well aware. There was one ridiculous leaflet. The first ones were very crude, very primitive, but I saw one later on in the campaign, and I cannot recall exactly when it was but I can go and check the files of when it was, which said that some *** Yugoslav troops had defected. I said "what is the evidence for this?" in MoD when I got hold of this and nobody had any evidence. I went to our intelligence people and said "do you know about these *** Yugoslav troops who have defected, why have we not been told about it in our 8.30 briefings every morning?" and, of course, nobody knew anything about it. This was in the leaflets that were being dropped which was a clear nonsense. You could say it would have affected people's morale but most of the people on whom those leaflets would have landed would have known perfectly well it was a nonsense and I would have thought been counterproductive. I am told that we had *** I could never find out. They probably said this as a sop to me but I said "for God's sake, do we have *** engaged in psyops campaigns, it is extremely important". I think they were patronising about all that. I happen to know that DERA Malvern employs no fewer than 100 psychologists. I was very surprised when I found this out. I found it out before Kosovo and I asked ***. You know how it is, you ask a question three times and if you do not get an answer you give up asking the question, you are only a humble Minister of State.

  Chairman: We will let Julian have the last word, he rarely does.

Dr Lewis

  1089. That is very kind. I would just like to go back to what I said before. Do you know whether any attempts were made at the time that we were publicly proclaiming to Milosevic that we were not going to do this, we were not going to do that and we were not going to do the other, primarily, of course, in order to satisfy our allies and our domestic un-war like populations, whether there were any psychological operations directed against him to indicate that, whatever we were saying publicly, in fact we would stop at nothing to ensure that he was defeated? That is what should have been done, is it not?
  (Lord Gilbert) An awful lot of things should have been done, Dr Lewis. No, I do not is the answer. We prided ourselves, or NATO boasted in a number of broadcasts it made, that it had a website where people sitting in Belgrade could tune in and read "NATO is good, Milosevic is bad", but I think the whole thing was pretty amateurish I have to say. Are we coming to the end of our time, Chairman?


  1090. Yes.
  (Lord Gilbert) There are couple of points I would like to leave with you.

  1091. Can I ask one further question for you on the press conferences, bearing in mind how awful it was in the Falklands. Was that one of the more successful aspects of the campaign?
  (Lord Gilbert) Yes, I think it was. Personally I did not share some of the emphases of the press conferences. The use of the word "genocide", which came up very often, I thought was quite misplaced because I do not think Mr Milosevic, whatever else he was doing, was engaged in genocide, he was just trying to kick people out. He used very unpleasant methods to do it but he was not actually trying to exterminate them all. That was unfortunate. No, I think they were extremely informative and they were watched throughout Europe, in the chanceries of Europe, and they were also replayed by CNN and got a lot of attention in Washington. We were the only country doing it. It was a masterpiece by the British Government, I think that was where we did extremely well regardless of whether you endorse every last thing that was said. There are a couple of things that I would like to leave with your Committee, if I may. One is the terms of the MTA—the Military Technical Agreement—which was the basis on which Milosevic finally pulled his people out of Kosovo. There are several items in that which I find surprising. There is a term in that requiring the Serbs to pull out all their heavy equipment in stages at given days, to get it all out of Kosovo. I could never understand the rationale for that when it was over. My view was there should have been a term in the Treaty, the Agreement, which required them to leave all their heavy equipment in Kosovo. Now they have got it all back in Yugoslavia. If they want to pick a quarrel with Montenegro or somebody else they have got all their kit intact. It seems the most extraordinary perverse logic. I raised this subject and I found out who had drafted this particular clause who took rather an exception to the fact that I was challenging it. They said "What do you want" so I told him and he said "Well, you could not do that, NATO had no authority to make such requirements". I said "Well, that being the case, at the very least the MTA should have been silent on this subject. It should not have required this kit to be taken out, just to see whether they have got it or not". That is one thing you might like to take into account, whether it is within the terms of evidence of your inquiry, Chairman, I am not sure. The other thing is—and I know this very often raises smiles if I mention it to you—I do think it is important for the future, particularly when you get people being very squeamish about the type of targets being attacked, I am quite sure we are going to see more and more in the future of two features of warfare. One is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, we lost several and so did our Allies, and needless to say there was not a mention of this in the newspapers. Who cared? They were fairly cheap and nobody's lives were lost, but they were very effective in bringing battlefield intelligence back to us. I think we are going to see more and more of them. Also—and this is another of my hobby horses—use of non-lethal weapons. At the end of the day we destroyed—destroyed is not the right word—we inhibited the Serbs' power supplies by the use of non lethal weapons. There is always a feeling in the back of people's minds I think that non lethal weapons are not really proper weapons, almost wimpish things. If I could leave your Committee with the thought that the custodians of this great body of experimentation and theory on the use of non lethal weapons in the United States is the United States Marine Corps who are hardly the wimps of the American defence establishment. I think these are matters which we need to address very seriously in the Ministry of Defence. I think they are being looked at but I do not think they are being given the priorities they should. One last thing, if I can remind your Committee, Chairman, is the incredible shambles we found ourselves in over the oil embargo. Something needs to be done about it and I have refreshed my memory on that, if I can detain you just a moment longer, within the last 24 hours. Under international law, as I understand it, you need the consent of the state of which a particular ship is flagged in order to detain that ship. That is enough legal basis if you get the consent of that particular state. The United Kingdom can apply that regime to the ships of flagged states and, with the consent of the regime, hold them up. Naval vessels of consenting states can apply their regimes to United Kingdom ships. It is when you get to United Kingdom ships being detained by Royal Navy ships, surprisingly enough, that you get legal problems. There are some limited powers under domestic law to apply the regime to our ships. I am told regulations have been made under the EC Act of 1972, but even that is debateable. I am also told that in all these situations you could be subject to litigation where we are stopping other people's ships, where people are stopping our ships, let alone where there is any question of us stopping our own ships. I think, if I may say so, that is an area that your Committee might, with profit, like to look into, Chairman. Thank you very much.

  1092. Thank you so much, John. You have the perfect liberty to make Nixon-like deletions. Even if you do, it has been very, very helpful, thank you very much.
  (Lord Gilbert) Thank you very much for having me.

3   Cm 4724. Back

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