Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report



46.  In parallel with the threat of force, sanctions were employed by the international community as a means of exerting pressure on Milosevic (and to a lesser extent, the KLA). Following an escalation in Kosovo in early March 1998, when 58 Kosovo Albanians, including women and children, were killed by Serb forces in Donji Prekaz,[92] the Contact Group on 9 March 1998 "endorsed a sanctions package (although as immediate measures the Russians would only commit themselves to pursue UN Security Council consideration of a comprehensive arms embargo against the FRY, and refusal to supply equipment to the FRY which could be used for internal repression or for terrorism.) This led to the adoption of UNSCR 1160 on 31 March, imposing an arms embargo on the FRY."[93] Russia opposed the imposition of further sanctions against Belgrade, and so further measures were imposed by the EU, associate members of the EU, the USA, Canada and Japan acting individually.

47.  According to Marc Weller, who has made a study of the negotiations, "the international monitoring presence was unable to detect violations of the embargo by Yugoslavia."[94] Serbia also had a large domestic arms industry which to some extent rendered any arms embargo, however effectively monitored, of limited significance. The EU also imposed a ban on the issuance of visas for particular members of the Serbian regime on 19 March 1998.[95] These sanctions brought about no reduction in action against the Kosovo Albanians, and the EU decided on 8 June to implement further measures, "including an investment ban and a freeze on funds held abroad by the regime."[96] These were followed up at the Cardiff European Council on 15 June with "a ban on flights by Yugoslav carriers between the FRY and EU Member States.[97] According to Mr Weller, "that ban was not implemented by all EU member states with similar enthusiasm. The United Kingdom, in particular, found reason not to comply immediately."[98] At one point the Government appears to have considered delaying the ban for twelve months, under the terms of the 1959 UK/Yugoslavia Air Services Agreement. The Foreign Secretary has denied that it was slow to implement the ban, stating that the United Kingdom implemented the ban on 9 September, after the worsening humanitarian situation caused the Government to over-ride its Air Services Agreement with Yugoslavia.[99] The UK implemented the ban at the same time as the rest of the EU (excepting Greece). We are concerned that it took three months for the European Council decision on a flight ban to be implemented, given that Yugoslavia was a pariah state which was engaged in a campaign of atrocities against its own population.

48.  Overall, therefore, as in other areas of international action over Kosovo, the effectiveness of sanctions may have been reduced by the lack of unity among the international community. Sanctions were limited as compared to, for example, those imposed on Iraq, although tighter sanctions were imposed during the NATO campaign itself.[100] Of course, that is not to say, given Milosevic's reaction to military threats, that tougher sanctions would have had any effect. We conclude that a more effective sanctions regime might have been imposed, but that it would have been unlikely to have resolved the crisis.

The OSCE Verification Mission

49.  In parallel with the strengthening of sanctions, there were successive attempts to improve the monitoring of the situation in Kosovo. This was because, as Marc Weller puts it, "since 1991 the Milosevic government had given assurances in relation to its armed activities which were generally not kept."[101] The first effort to improve monitoring in relation to Kosovo followed a meeting between Milosevic and President Yeltsin on 16 June 1998, when Milosevic agreed "that there would be no restrictions on diplomatic staff accredited to the FRY seeking information on the situation in Kosovo. The EU responded by increasing the number of accredited diplomats active in Kosovo: they operated closely with the small number of ECMM (European Community Monitoring Mission) personnel already in the region."[102] These proved ineffectual, although they did succeed in raising public awareness of the situation in Kosovo: the US element of what became KDOM (the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission) placed their reports on the internet.

50.  The number of refugees and internally displaced people continued to grow, reaching 300,000 by September 1998, leading to military threats[103] and then the Holbrooke agreement. Under this, the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) would be deployed to supplement KDOM, under the control of the OSCE Permanent Council, "but pursuant to a Security Council resolution. In this way, Yugoslavia could assure itself of a modicum of indirect control over the operation, through Russia's presence in the Security Council."[104] The agreement provided for 2,000 unarmed monitors, with the possibility of additional personnel deployed to "supervise" elections. NATO would also provide aerial verification. Verification would be directed at both the KLA and at monitoring Milosevic's military undertakings. A NATO 'Extraction Force' was also sent to Macedonia, the explicit task of which was to ensure that the KVM could be rescued in the event of a breakdown in Kosovo, and the unstated task of which was to increase military pressure on Milosevic. The Holbrooke agreement did not offer a comprehensive settlement, but a reduction in the intensity of the conflict, in the hope that this would lead to further steps.

51.  The KVM started slowly. The mission formally began on 25 October 1998, and by December the KVM had only 50 staff. The OSCE had no staff of its own to deploy, had no warning of what was to come, and relied upon secondments and nominations by Member States. Staff then had to be trained and familiarised with local circumstances. According to the FCO "the UK spear-headed efforts to get verifiers on the ground as speedily as possible"[105] and "the initial UK contribution of some 150 verifiers, the majority of whom were military personnel, began to arrive in Kosovo on 5 November."[106] By Christmas Eve, the staff had risen to 908, including 392 local staff—still less than half the planned number. We conclude that the deployment of OSCE verifiers was an important part of the Holbrooke agreement, and that the international community did not display sufficient seriousness or urgency in fulfilling this side of the agreement.

52.  According to the FCO "neither Belgrade nor the KLA (which had not been a party to the agreement) proved committed to making the [Holbrooke] agreement work."[107] The Serb Christmas offensive led on to Racak, and then to further military threats, and the decision to push for a comprehensive settlement at Rambouillet—crucially, one which included the Kosovo Albanian side. While the Holbrooke agreement can be criticised for not bringing the KLA into the agreement, the KLA has always been an unstructured organisation, based on family and personal links rather than a rigid hierarchy. This made it difficult both to understand, and to negotiate with, even if Western diplomats had wished to do so. Overall, the observers did not prevent atrocities, but they did perhaps limit them: as we discuss below,[108] their withdrawal just before the start of air strikes allowed the Serbs to intensify their assault on the Kosovo Albanians. They also ensured that public opinion was more aware of what was happening in Kosovo, helping to build a consensus that 'something must be done.' We conclude that, in retrospect, the Holbrooke agreement delayed NATO intervention, but did not avoid it—and it was perhaps unlikely that unarmed observers could do more, given the entrenched positions of the combatants.

United Kingdom diplomatic action

53.  It is worth recalling the principal bilateral contacts made during this period between the British Government and other parties in the Kosovo dispute. In chronological order, these were:

5 Mar 1998      Foreign Secretary meets Milosevic in Belgrade, following telephone conversation with Rugova
11 Mar 1998 Minister of State visits Belgrade
26 Mar 1998 Senior FCO Officials visit Belgrade and Pristina
3 Apr 1998 Foreign Secretary's personal envoy meets Milosevic
10 Jun 1998 Minister of State visits Belgrade to hand over Prime Minister's letter to Milosevic. Then visits Pristina.
11 Jun 1998 Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary meet Kosovo Albanian leaders in London.
2 Jul 1998 Foreign Secretary's personal envoy again meets Milosevic.
28 Sept 1998 Mr Ashdown delivers Prime Minister's letter to Milosevic.
30 Jan 1999 Foreign Secretary meets both parties in Belgrade and Skopje

Combined with the multilateral work conducted through the Contract Group, the EU, NATO and the UN—where British Ministers were frequently in the lead—this clearly demonstrates a considerable investment in diplomacy. We conclude that it is difficult to criticise the United Kingdom for doing too little on the diplomatic front: on the contrary the Government should be commended for the efforts it made during this period.


54.  We turn now to the question of whether or not the Rambouillet package was well judged. We ask what was on offer and what the sticking points were. We then deal with the Military Annex to the Agreement, which has been the subject of much debate subsequently.

What did Rambouillet offer?

55.  According to the FCO, the Rambouillet negotiations "would define the terms of an agreement which would provide for a cease-fire, a peace settlement and the deployment of an international peacekeeping force within Kosovo to uphold that settlement."[109] As we discussed above,[110] both parties attended Rambouillet under NATO's threat of "whatever measures were necessary to avert a humanitarian catastrophe."[111] The threat was nominally addressed to both sides. In practice, given the international sympathy for the Kosovo Albanian population, who were suffering greater atrocities than the Serb population (and KLA attacks were mostly focussed on Serb policemen,[112] while Serb action often focussed on unarmed civilians) the Rambouillet package was always likely, overall, to be more favourable to the Albanians than the Serbs. The Serbs could be threatened, while on the whole, the Kosovo Albanians could only be bribed.

What were the sticking points?

56.  Some believe that there was no hope for Rambouillet from the start. Dr Woodward told us that "the way [Rambouillet] was structured meant that it would fail" because it did not recognise that "this was a genuine conflict over territory that had been going on through the entire century and both sides had arguments on their side, and this was not simply a matter of imposing an agreement on one that had violated all international law in other circumstances and another which did not need to make any compromises."[113] In general, "it was probably already too late"[114] to conduct serious negotiations by the time of Rambouillet. Others focus their criticisms on the demands made of the Serb side.

57.  According to the FCO, there were "two key Kosovo Albanian demands...their desire for a binding referendum on independence after a three-year interim period, and for a NATO ground force in the meantime."[115] The United Kingdom-French co-chairs (and Washington behind them) proposed a NATO implementation force. It is clear why the presence of a NATO force—the point which was most difficult for Milosevic to accept[116]—was non-negotiable for the co-chairs, in the light of the Racak massacre which had occurred despite the presence of unarmed OSCE monitors.

58.  The referendum issue is less clear. A number of commentators have claimed that the Rambouillet Accord offered a referendum on autonomy to the Kosovo Albanians. The former Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia told the Canadian House of Commons Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade that "it is now generally accepted by those who have seen the Rambouillet agreement that no sovereign state could have agreed to its conditions. The...demand that a referendum on autonomy be held within three years guaranteed a Serbian rejection."[117] William Hopkinson assesses that a referendum on independence could not have been accepted by Milosevic.[118]

59.  In fact the Rambouillet Accords did not offer a binding referendum on independence—at least, not explicitly. Chapter 8, Article 1 (3) reads:

    "Three years after the entry into force of this agreement, an international meeting shall be convened to determine a mechanism for a final settlement for Kosovo, on the basis of the will of the people, opinions of relevant authorities, each Party's efforts regarding the implementation of this Agreement, and the Helsinki Final Act, and to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of this Agreement and to consider proposals by any Party for additional measures."[119]

The language was carefully chosen to leave open the possibility of a referendum without committing the international community to one. Marc Weller records that at the very end of the conference the Kosovo Albanian delegation came close to extracting a further concession, referring to the "expressed will of the people" [emphasis added], although this was subsequently rejected by the Contact Group.[120] The reference in Article 1 (3) to the Helsinki Final Act is a reference to the principle of the inviolability of frontiers except by agreement. It is therefore clear that there was no commitment made by the United Kingdom-French co-chairs to a binding referendum on independence for Kosovo.

60.  However, according to the FCO, "the US sent a letter to the Kosovo Albanian delegation, noting that the US regarded the agreement as confirming the right of the people of Kosovo to hold a referendum, consistent with the provisions of the Rambouillet agreement, on Kosovo's final status."[121] Tim Judah reproduced the text of this letter as follows:

    "Rambouillet, 22 February 1999

    This letter concerns the formulation (attached) proposed for Chapter 8, Article 1 (3) of the interim Framework Agreement. We will regard this proposal, or any other formulation, of that Article that may be agreed at Rambouillet, as confirming a right for the people of Kosovo to hold a referendum on the final status of Kosovo after three years.


    Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State."[122]

This letter offers a different interpretation from that provided by the FCO: it appears that the US Secretary of State was offering US support for a referendum regardless of what was agreed at Rambouillet, rather than "consistent with the provisions of...Rambouillet." It is difficult to envisage a situation where a referendum would be held and then disregarded by the international community. Thus even if the words of the agreement did not specifically provide for a binding referendum on independence, there was a ground for suspicion for the Serb side on this point. Certainly, the Albanian side continue to believe that the Albright letter represents a commitment by the USA to a binding referendum. Overall, it is clear that consistency among the allies would have helped the negotiations, and that there were occasions where unilateralism harmed progress.

61.  Despite the balance of the draft Agreement favouring the Kosovo Albanians, the KLA refused to sign the deal. The most difficult clause for the KLA to accept was the provision that the KLA must be disarmed within three months.[123] The talks broke up and were resumed at the Kleber Centre in Paris in order to give Hashim Thaci, the political head of the KLA, time to gain the agreement of the various KLA commanders to the Rambouillet proposals, which he eventually achieved.

The Military Annex to the Rambouillet Accords

62.  Another controversial area of the Rambouillet negotiations was the so-called Military Annex to the Rambouillet Accords, actually Appendix B to the Military Chapter. This Appendix set out the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) for NATO—that is to say, the rules which would govern the behaviour of and relations between NATO and the Yugoslav authorities. Controversy has focussed in particular on the broadly drafted provision which permitted NATO and affiliated forces transit through Yugoslav territory: "NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial waters."[124]

63.  Many observers have blamed the Military Annex for the unwillingness of the Serb side to sign Rambouillet: for example, the Serbian Information Centre states that the terms of the annex "were only proper for a signature by a country defeated in war."[125] The former Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia told the Canadian Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade that "the insistence of allowing access to all of Yugoslavia by NATO forces...guaranteed a Serbian rejection."[126] Mr Hopkinson assesses that the entrance of NATO forces into Serbia proper could not be accepted by Milosevic, and notes that this was "in fact omitted from the post-campaign settlement."[127]

64.  Professor Roberts told us that the Military Annex was:

    "on one level a complete scandal, and it shows an absence of any understanding whatever of Serbian society, because to write into a military agreement that the Yugoslav Government had to accept NATO troop rights, not merely in transit but manoeuvre and goodness knows what else, was outrageous, bearing in mind that Yugoslavia is a country where it had been a constitutional offence, under the Tito constitution, and since 1971 actually, to accept the presence of foreign forces on Yugoslav soil. And it is not correct to say, as has been commonly done, including still today by Wes Clark, that the military agreement was simply a carbon copy of the Dayton Agreement in respect of Yugoslavia. There are provisions in there that were not in the Dayton Agreement."[128]

NATO is guilty of a serious oversight in failing to estimate the political significance of what might have appeared to be a military technicality. SOFAs are highly sensitive, directly impinging as they do on states' sovereignty, with regard, for example to the jurisdiction of national courts over foreign soldiers.

65.  However, in terms of the overall impact of the Military Annex on the Rambouillet negotiations, Professor Roberts continued:

    "there is no evidence at all that the military provisions in that agreement played any part in the breakdown of negotiations at Rambouillet, at least, I have yet to see any, it may be that some can be produced. But those who took part in the negotiations say that the military annex was never discussed; if it was delivered at all to the Yugoslav side it was on the very last days of the negotiations, and it appears they made no fundamental objection to it, and that is because it was the main substance of the Rambouillet Agreement that was under discussion and they would only have got to that subsequently."[129]

Tim Judah also made a convincing case that the Military Annex was "a red herring".[130] Sir John Goulden told us that the Military Annex "was part of the agenda that was never reached because it broke down on something more fundamental before that."[131] And, as Dr Jones Parry explained, Milosevic subsequently used the SOFA as "a smoke screen."[132] We conclude that, whatever the actual impact of the Military Annex of the Rambouillet proposals on the negotiations, NATO was guilty of a serious blunder in allowing a Status of Forces Agreement into the package which would never have been acceptable to the Yugoslav side, since it was a significant infringement of its sovereignty.


66.  The Serbian Information Centre argues that "the so called Rambouillet negotiations were doomed from the start because nobody believed the Milosevic regime any more, and because a decision to punish Serbia by an armed attack had, at that time, already been made."[133] One interpretation of the oral evidence given to us by FCO officials is that they never really believed that Milosevic would sign at Rambouillet, but that as Dr Jones Parry told us, "we had to go through a process",[134] presumably with the aim of promoting unity among the international community in favour of military action by showing that Milosevic was unwilling to negotiate.[135] Sir John Goulden told us that "we were at the sceptical end of the spectrum of NATO about the Holbrooke Agreement."[136] This scepticism apparently continued at Rambouillet: according to the FCO "the UK was under no illusions about the difficulty of the task at Rambouillet."[137] This is not necessarily a criticism of the FCO, given Milosevic's track record, and seeing that the subsidiary aim of promoting alliance unity was reasonable under the circumstances.

67.  However, regardless of whether a negotiated settlement was expected or not, NATO needed the Kosovo Albanians to sign the agreement. Primarily, this was because without this there was no hope for a negotiated settlement, the optimal outcome from NATO's point of view. But it was also because unless Milosevic could be blamed for the collapse of the talks, it would be difficult to justify the use of force against him, and—in NATO's eyes—without the start of a military campaign, attacks on the Kosovo Albanians could continue unhindered. The next best outcome was therefore that the Kosovo Albanians would sign and Milosevic would not. If neither side signed, the killing would continue, and it would have been difficult for NATO to do anything about it. It was therefore necessary to tilt in favour of the Kosovo Albanians—and as we discuss above, the USA was prepared to tilt further than the United Kingdom-French co-chairs.

68.  Another criticism of the Rambouillet package was that there were threats made to Milosevic, but no inducements offered. However, we were told by Dr Jones Parry that "we made it quite clear throughout Rambouillet what was on offer by way of eventually lifting the outer wall of sanctions, provided that Kosovo was solved, provided that we could see a democratic future for FRY."[138] Mr Donnelly went on to say that Milosevic "showed not the slightest interest"[139] in the inducements offered to him by Mr Holbrooke.

69.  Dr Levitin, from a Russian perspective, argues that "the collapse of Rambouillet had nothing to do with the quality of Hill's [USA negotiator] political drafts: they offered a realistic compromise and an applicable provisional solution."[140] Professor Roberts told us that "on the main text of the Agreement was not unreasonable."[141] Of course, the central issue is whether the agreement could have been accepted by Milosevic. As well as the inducements offered to Milosevic referred to above, the Foreign Secretary told us: "the Rambouillet peace process did assembly with remarkable over-generous representation for the Serb population, and had the Serb side accepted Rambouillet they would be in a much better position now."[142] One view, from Jonathan Steele, was that Rambouillet "was well judged, if Milosevic had been a normal politician, but he is not, he is a war criminal."[143] According to this line—and it is a variation of one we have heard from many sources—Milosevic was not susceptible to threats that his country would be bombed, because he did not care about his people, or at least, he cared about maintaining his own position more, and agreeing to Rambouillet would have been more dangerous to his position than NATO launching a bombing campaign.

70.  Dame Pauline Neville-Jones told us: "I suspect by [Rambouillet] he regarded the Western position as being one where this negotiation was a disguised way of getting an international presence on to Serb soil which would lead to the separation of Kosovo from Serbia, and he was not going to have that. It was easier to be bombed and show the national strength and willingness to defend the national integrity than actually to be put in the position that this lot came in and outwitted him and took his territory away."[144] Tim Judah argued that Milosevic believed—presumably because many of NATO's leaders believed the same, as we discuss below[145]—that the bombing campaign would last only a few days, and that he could withstand this: "Milosevic decided to gamble and he lost everything."[146] On this reading, the problem was not with the reasonableness or otherwise of the Rambouillet package, but partly that it was difficult to threaten Milosevic because of his lack of concern for his people and his country, and partly that the NATO threat lacked credibility. Jane Sharp told us that she was "sure that Milosevic would not sign Rambouillet because he was getting assurances from the Russians of various things."[147] One of these was presumably that UN Security Council approval for military action would be blocked, and on past practice it was perhaps a reasonable assumption that NATO would not proceed without this authorisation. Again, the issue turns, not upon whether the Rambouillet package was reasonable or not, but on whether Milosevic really believed that he would be bombed hard and long enough to do serious damage, or whether he faced the prospect of a ground assault, which as the FCO itself admitted to us, probably contributed to him giving up Kosovo in the end.[148] The Foreign Secretary himself told us: "the fact is we had a very clear impression that President Milosevic did not believe that we would take military action and, because of that, was not willing to participate fully in the peace process."[149] We conclude that considerable efforts were made to find a peaceful means of averting the Kosovo crisis. Leaving aside the Military Annex, a matter not raised at the negotiation, the Rambouillet proposals were reasonable. Milosevic was not reasonable, but despite this, it was worth making a determined effort to find a diplomatic solution.

92   Ev. p. 4. See also para 26. Back

93   Ev. p. 5. The EU had kept its own arms embargo in place after Dayton. Back

94   Weller, p. 220. Back

95   Weller, p. 222. Back

96   Ev. p. 6. Back

97   Ev. p. 6. Back

98   Weller, p. 220. Back

99   Foreign Affairs Committee, Human Rights, First Report,10 December 1998, Session 1998-99, Appendix 32. Available on: www.parliament.the­stationery­ Back

100   E.g. an oil embargo was imposed by NATO members, but not by Russia. Back

101   Weller, p. 288. Back

102   Ev. p. 6. Back

103   See para 41. Back

104   Weller, p. 289. Back

105   Ev. p. 8. Back

106   Ev. p. 8. Back

107   Ev. p. 8. Back

108   See paras 84-89. Back

109   Ev. p. 8. Back

110   See para 41. Back

111   Ev. p. 8. Back

112   Although by no means all: for example, on 14 December 1998 "six Serb teenagers were killed while playing pool when two masked gunmen sprayed a café in Pec with bullets." Weller, p. 290. This followed the killing of 36 KLA men by the Serb army. Ev. p. 26. Back

113   QC258. Back

114   QC258. Back

115   Ev. p. 9. Back

116   OSCE Report, As seen, as told, Part I, p. 7. Available on OSCE web site: From here on "OCSE Report." Back

117­e.htm. Back

118   Ev. p. 277. See paras 62-65 for a discussion of the Military Annex. Back

119   Weller, p. 469. Back

120   Weller, p. 410. Back

121   Ev. p. 9. Back

122   Judah, p. 215. Back

123   OSCE Report, p. 7. Back

124   Weller, p. 469. Back

125   Ev. p. 345. Back

126­e.htm. Back

127   Ev. p. 277. Back

128   Sir John Goulden told us that the SOFA was "more or less based" on those "used elsewhere in the Balkans in the context of Bosnia." QC72. Professor Roberts: QC143. Back

129   QC143. Back

130   QC146. Back

131   QC72. Back

132   QC76. Back

133   Ev. p. 345. Back

134   QC11. Back

135   Implied, but not stated in so many words in QC12. Back

136   QC36. Back

137   Ev. p. 9. Back

138   QC70. Back

139   QC70. Back

140   Ev. p. 361. Back

141   QC143. Back

142   QC447. Back

143   QC144. Back

144   QC257. Back

145   See paras 106-111. Back

146   QC146. Back

147   QC146. Back

148   See paras 119-120. Back

149   QB112. Back

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