Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report


34.  In the next part of this report we shall show that, as the KLA began to grow and human rights abuses in Kosovo increased, so the diplomatic focus on the province intensified. We outline a brief chronology of the events leading up to the crisis in Kosovo, and then we discuss here the United Kingdom's objectives before the campaign, and how these objectives differed from those of other participants. We then examine arguments about whether an earlier threat of force or further diplomatic action could have averted the crisis.

35.  A full chronology of events from September 1997 is contained in the FCO's written evidence.[57] We set out some of the most important events up to the start of bombing in a shortened chronology below:

SeptemberContact Group discusses Kosovo
September-November European pressure on Belgrade for dialogue
NovemberKLA attack Serb patrol
February-MarchEscalating violence in Kosovo
March—North Atlantic Council expresses concern and calls for all sides to reduce
tension—Contact Group's ten point action plan—United Nations Security
Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1160
MayHopeful signs from Milosevic/Rugova meeting dashed
June—EU Sanctions imposed—NATO begins initial military planning—Cardiff
European Council threatens Milosevic if repression does not cease
JulyKLA controls large areas of Kosovo
AugustSerb counter-offensive, 250,000 internally displaced by end of month
September—UNSCR 1199—Activation warning to NATO forces
October—Holbrooke to Belgrade—Activation Orders by NATO—Milosevic agrees to
verification—UNSCR 1203—Activation Orders put on "soft trigger"
NovemberOSCE verifiers arrive, but violence continues
November-DecemberChristopher Hill shuttle diplomacy
January—Racak massacre—Hill draws up package as basis for Rambouillet—NATO's
solemn warning
FebruaryRambouillet begins
March—Holbrooke in Belgrade—Talks reconvene at Kleber Centre, and are
adjourned—Holbrooke again in Belgrade—Bombing begins

Objectives of United Kingdom and international organisations

36.  The United Kingdom's objectives cannot be divorced from those of the Contact Group[58] and other international organisations, although a distinct United Kingdom position is sometimes apparent. The Contact Group's first statement on Kosovo was made on 24 September 1997 (according to the FCO, "the UK put Kosovo on the Contact Group's agenda"[59]). The statement called upon the authorities in Belgrade and the leadership of the Kosovo Albanians to join in a peaceful dialogue and to implement the Education Agreement.[60] Mr Tony Lloyd, then Minister of State at the FCO, told us on 19 March 1998 that "there should be a renunciation of violence by all parties"; that "negotiations must take place between the authorities in Belgrade and the representatives of the Albanians in Kosovo", and that any solution had "to be within the boundaries of the internationally agreed borders of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" while entailing "very real autonomy for the ethnic Albanians."[61] Part of that autonomy included bringing to fruition the "education agreement which has been in existence for some time now."[62] Mr Lloyd also stressed that "we are not sponsors of any side, [but] we stand for certain basic values"[63] and that "we have and will continue to condemn terrorism by those claiming to represent the Albanians just as much as we will condemn violence by the state authorities."[64]

37.  As Belgrade's repression in Kosovo intensified, so the demands became more focussed on Belgrade's actions, and less on the KLA, and as trust in Milosevic declined, so demands focussed increasingly on the verification of compliance with commitments. On 26 January 1999, following the massacre at Racak, Mr Lloyd told us that "the Contact Group had made it quite clear that Belgrade must stop all offensive action and repression in Kosovo...[and] promote the safe return of persons displaced in the Racak area, and take all steps to avoid further humanitarian catastrophe." The Contact Group also demanded that "the KVM[65]...must be permitted to carry out the responsibilities in an unimpeded fashion [and that Belgrade must] cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia."[66] EU heads of government at the European Council in Berlin on 24-25 March 1999 declared that "We, the countries of the European Union, are under a moral obligation to ensure that indiscriminate behaviour and violence, which became tangible in the massacre at Racak in January 1999, are not repeated. We have a duty to ensure the return to their homes of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons." They also stated that "we are responsible for securing peace and cooperation in the region."[67]

38.  A number of objectives can be identified from these statements:

    —  improving the humanitarian situation in Kosovo;

    —  promoting political dialogue between the Kosovo Albanians and Belgrade;

    —  promoting greater autonomy for the Kosovo Albanians while maintaining the internationally recognised borders of Yugoslavia;

    —  maintaining regional stability by avoiding large refugee flows into neighbouring states;

    —  discouraging the use of force to settle political differences.

We now turn to the various criticisms which have been advanced of the diplomatic process, which aimed to achieve these objectives.

The diplomatic process

39.  The FCO argues that it exhausted every diplomatic option before air strikes were launched. Dr Jones Parry told us that "we have gone through a process of...diplomacy and sanctions, the threat of force, preparing to use that force, activating ACTORDs, the process of negotiation again. We tested to destruction. If you like, we can be criticised for having gone the extra mile."[68] The Foreign Secretary told us "Belgrade had every opportunity to resolve this through dialogue and negotiation before the military conflict took place. I invested seven weeks in trying to make the Rambouillet and the Paris peace talks succeed. When Hubert Vedrine and I suspended those talks we did so quite clearly because the Serb side were not negotiating in good faith and actually even the Russians were quite blunt in pinning the blame for the breakdown on the Serb side."[69] The FCO's line has been challenged on the basis that alternative courses of action were available, including more intensive diplomatic action at an earlier stage, and that the package presented to Milosevic at Rambouillet was unreasonable. We address these criticisms in turn.


40.  We examine when a threat of force was made, and then whether NATO should have made the threat earlier. The threat of force was a vital element of the diplomatic process, frequently used in connection with Kosovo: after all, the international community believed that force had brought Milosevic round during the crisis in Bosnia.[70] As we discuss above, threats of military action over Kosovo were first made by President Bush in 1992, and repeated by President Clinton in February 1993.[71] Until the emergence of the KLA and the increasingly harsh campaign by Belgrade against the KLA and those perceived as supporting them in 1998, no further threats of the use of force were made. Kosovo was, however, discussed by NATO. NATO Foreign Ministers first expressed concern in December 1997. On 5 March 1998, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) issued a statement describing NATO's interest in the area, and the same day the US Special Envoy to the Balkans, Robert Gelbard, reiterated President Bush's warning. On 6 May 1998 the NAC commissioned advice on options for more active Partnership for Peace engagement in Albania and Macedonia. A ministerial meeting of the NAC held on 28 May 1998 identified two objectives for NATO:

    "To help achieve a peaceful resolution of the crisis by contributing to the response of the international community; and

    To promote stability and security in neighbouring countries, with particular emphasis on Albania and the former Yugoslavia."[72]

NATO also began building up its forces and undertaking manoeuvres in the region, with the intention of signalling "NATO's interest in containing the crisis and in seeking a peaceful resolution" including Partnership for Peace exercises in Macedonia and Albania.[73] The FCO informed us that NATO's aim at this time "was to support diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, including through the credible threat of force."[74] At this point, therefore, NATO was implicitly but unmistakably using the threat of force to compel Milosevic to undertake negotiations.

41.  On 23 September 1998, UNSCR 1199 called on all parties to cease hostilities, and in particular for Yugoslavia to "cease all action by the security forces affecting the civilian population."[75] Failure to comply with this Resolution led the NAC to authorise activation orders for air strikes: following the signature of the Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement on 12 October, the activation orders for the air strikes was suspended. UNSCR 1203 of 24 October 1998 established the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM), and also mentioned NATO for the first time in relation to Kosovo, stating that the Security Council "Endorses and supports the agreements signed in Belgrade...on 15 October 1998 between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and NATO, concerning the verification of compliance by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and all others concerned in Kosovo with the requirements of its resolution 1199 (1998)." NATO was therefore by this time fully involved in the crisis. From 27 October 1998 until the launch of air strikes in March 1999, the NATO threat remained present in the background, on what the FCO described to us as "a 'soft' trigger".[76] Following the Racak massacre, which "provided incontrovertible evidence that Belgrade was ignoring the will of the international community",[77] this threat was brought into the foreground. On 30 January "NATO issued a solemn warning: both parties must respond to the Contact Group summons to Rambouillet, halt the violence, and comply with the October agreement."[78] Once again, therefore, the threat of force was used to compel the parties to negotiate.

42.  As we discuss above, the first indication of NATO concern—which could be construed as an implicit threat—was made in December 1997. A more explicit threat was issued from March 1998 when NATO manoeuvres began and the Gelbard warning was made. Thereafter, threats of force became more and more public, and were backed up by greater and greater deployments to the region. In addition, while there were atrocities committed against the Kosovo Albanians before the summer of 1998, there was a significant escalation at this time as a result of the Serb offensive. December 1997 was eight months and March 1998 was eleven months after this Government entered office, and it would have been a dramatic move, out of line with the thinking of our allies, to threaten the use of force before then. More criticism has been made of the Government for resorting to force too quickly, and not allowing negotiations to run their course, rather than for threatening force too late. In addition, at no point was the threat of force used credibly by NATO against the Kosovo Albanians—how could NATO be seen to be threatening those who were seen, on the whole, but not exclusively, to be the victims of Milosevic's oppression? With regard to Milosevic, as we discuss below,[79] the problem was not the timing of the threat of force, but its credibility. We conclude that threatening to use force against Milosevic before mid-1998—when there was a significant escalation in the assault on the Kosovo Albanians—would have been out of line with the thinking of our allies.


43.  We examine above the diplomatic efforts to address Kosovo before May 1997.[80] Dame Pauline Neville-Jones argues that there was an opportunity to produce a diplomatic solution between 1996 and early 1998—as we discuss above, this time saw "the emergence...of the KLA as a guerilla force, which was a decisive turning point."[81] Once this point had been passed "the political forces by then at play (with the internal security situation in Kosovo justifying in Belgrade's eyes the forcible suppression of a guerilla movement and, among the Kosovo Albanians, increased resistance) drastically reduced the chances of getting an agreement which avoided combat intervention."[82] William Hopkinson, Director of Studies at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, agreed with Dame Pauline's assessment, arguing that "it appears, in retrospect, that the winding up of the EU-UN led International Conference on Former Yugoslavia, after Dayton, but before a more comprehensive settlement of Balkan issues, was a mistake."[83] Dr Woodward told us that she "felt that there were very real opportunities for [a] diplomatic outcome beginning in 1997"[84] and Mrs Roberts told us that "it might have been possible to do something post Dayton to further negotiations in Kosovo."[85] Dr Levitin judged from his "interviews with leading Kosovar politicians in 1996-1998" that "as late as...the beginning of 1998" it might have been possible to gain the Kosovo Albanians' consent for a special status for Kosovo within Yugoslavia, although Milosevic's consent was another matter.[86]

44.  Dame Pauline argues that the opportunity which existed until early 1998 was missed because "on the American side, there was short termism...the political embarrassment of dealing with a pariah; and a strong preference for bilateral diplomacy rather than operating through the Contact Group or with the High Representative. On the European side, there was a recognition of the importance of the issue but insufficient backing for Carl Bildt's [the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy to the region] attempt to start a mediating process."[87] Dr Levitin adds that "Russia missed a lot of opportunities to prevent the Kosovo conflict, contrary to its own interests" resulting in the latter half of the 1990s from "a habit of delay and the lack of clear vision."[88]

45.  Dame Pauline told us, "Milosevic is impressed when the world is united against him and is not impressed until that happens."[89] As ever with international diplomatic action, there were problems of co-ordination, not only between states, but within them. Tim Judah records in detail how divisions in the US administration between Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke undermined US negotiations with Milosevic.[90] However, "the nature of Milosevic's personality and Serb emotion over Kosovo makes Kosovo an especially hard issue to resolve. It would not therefore be right to claim that had there been greater effort, success would have been assured."[91] We conclude that there may have been a missed international opportunity to achieve a peaceful settlement in Kosovo before the emergence of the KLA, but that this is only apparent with hindsight.

57   Ev. pp. 14-49. Back

58   The Contact Group consists of France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the USA. It was established during the crisis in Bosnia. Back

59   Ev. p. 13. Back

60   See para 33. Back

61   QA16. Back

62   QA16. Back

63   QA25. Back

64   QA31. Back

65   Kosovo Verification Mission. See paras 49-52. Back

66   QB2. Back

67 Back

68   QC12. Back

69   QB98. Back

70   See para 31. Back

71   See para 29. Back

72 Back

73   On 11-12 June 1998 NATO Defence Ministers directed NATO Military Authorities to assess and develop a full range of options for operations that might become necessary to reinforce or facilitate efforts to achieve a solution. Also on 12 June the Contact Group threatened "further measures" including those requiring Security Council authorisation if steps were not taken. On 15 June Exercise "Determined Falcon" began, "demonstrating NATO's capability to project power into the region." On 12 August the NATO Secretary General issued a statement confirming that the NAC had reviewed a full range of ground and air options to bring an end to violence and create the conditions for negotiations, and that informal force generation was to begin, followed by another statement on 9 September noting that NATO had completed contingency planning for a "full range of military measures." Ev. pp. 14-47. Back

74   Ev. p. 6. Back

75 Back

76   Ev. p. 8. Back

77   Ev. p. 8. Back

78   Ev. p. 8. Back

79   See paras 77-81. Back

80   See paras 28-33. Back

81   Ev. p. 110. Back

82   Ev. p. 110. Back

83   Ev. p. 277. Back

84   QC239. Back

85   QC249. Back

86   Ev. p. 361. Back

87   Ev. p. 110. Back

88   Ev. p. 362. Back

89   QC254. Back

90   Judah, p. 153. Back

91   Ev. p. 110. Back

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