|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate sits down, perhaps I may ask him to enlarge on one matter. There are reports in today's press about contacts between Lambeth and the Orthodox Church. Has there been any contact, not only with the Greek Patriarch in Thyatera, but also with the Serbian Patriarch at Sremski Karlovci?
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. For some years, to my great advantage, he was my vicar at St. Stephen's, Rochester Row, which is not far from here. It was inherent in our respective positions that I was unable, publicly at least, to comment immediately on what he had said. Today, I am delighted that I can do so, not least because he is even more persuasive now than he was then.
I am most grateful for this debate because it gives each of us an opportunity to state and review our position and perhaps counter some of the recent and extraordinarily shallow and harmful criticism of what our country with its NATO allies is engaged upon.
Much has been said with which I agree. I very much agree with the observation of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, about the mistake inherent in stating at the outset that a ground attack was not contemplated in any circumstances. I also agree with the comment of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, about the desirability of revisiting the cuts in the Armed Forces.
For my own part, it is not enough simply to reflect in a short speech that what we have heard already illustrates the extreme difficulty and complexity of the situation with which we are confronted and it is all too difficult. One must take a view. Our country is engaged in a campaign that is both honourable in its inception and very dangerous in its potentiality. It is honourable because its purpose is to deter crimes of inhumanity, reverse them as far as possible and restore to their birthright those who have been evicted in hideous circumstances from their homeland. Our purpose is and should be to prevent these crimes being replicated elsewhere if it should be seen that NATO is now an alliance of straw.
I strongly believe that our purpose is honourable. But it would not be sufficient for it to be honourable in its inception if it was impracticable because it could not succeed. It is here that the bulk of the criticism--although not in this House today--arises, largely because the success of the air campaign is not nearly complete. It is quite common to hear people who should know better say that NATO is simply stimulating what it says it wants to stop. I do not believe that that is a fair assessment of the heretofore and I dissent from that criticism as strongly as I can.
This campaign can and will succeed, but the challenge that we face is very different from those acts of aggression in the Falklands and the Gulf with which we are fairly recently familiar. On those occasions the acts of aggression were very quickly established as a fait accompli and that gave us time to build up our response. I believe that those campaigns and their successful prosecution have induced some to suppose that war can frequently be brought to a speedy and clear-cut victory; in most cases it cannot.
Here the choice that has lain before us has been, on the one hand, to keep supine observation while Milosevic pursues in full international view his ethnic cleansing campaign, including mass murder--I very
Surely, international law cannot require us to take the first course. I believe that if we did so it would be profoundly immoral. Generally speaking, international law does not countenance immorality. I believe that international law permits what we are doing and that today moral law demands it. I do not know--because I do not have the experience of the military junta that confronts me on the other side of the House--whether a ground assault will be necessary to achieve full success. I believe that there is a realistic possibility. It has always been on the cards. I would be very surprised--I am confident that it was not the case--if the Chiefs of Staff had somehow concealed from Ministers what they truly believed.
Instinct tells me that a ground assault would have formidable, but not insurmountable, difficulties and challenges. I do not know the answer to that question. I realise that we would not seek to occupy the former Yugoslavia as a whole but only Kosovo with the assistance--which I do not believe is negligible--of the KLA.
However, I know three things, and when I have dealt with them I shall sit down. First, if such an assault is required, and occurs, the air attacks of the past six weeks, both strategic and tactical, will not be found to have had a negligible, let alone negative, effect; rather, they will be found greatly to have diminished the ability of the Serb Army to resist a ground attack. If I had a son who might shortly be called upon to take part in such an attack I should feel pretty resentful about any suggestion that the earlier air attacks should not have been authorised. I have seen no report of any criticism whatever from Kosovan refugees of the attacks that have taken place; on the contrary, they have been fervent in their applause. I believe that to be significant.
Secondly, if NATO is to be seen to win the campaign and a ground attack is needed, that assault must happen. NATO now must win. Thirdly--but admittedly hypothetically--I believe that the mood of this debate and the country would be very different today if over the past six weeks, in full international view, the Serbs had been allowed with impunity to get on with their butcher's business while we and NATO did nothing. The words of Mr. Chamberlain about Czechoslovakia in 1938--they are too well known to need reciting--would be frequently in our minds. The only difference is that on this occasion we and our allies certainly have the means to do something about it: the means to fight. Only our willingness to look the other way would be the same.
Diplomacy must certainly be persisted in, but it is absolutely essential that we and our allies keep our nerve and maintain our just position. There is no place at this juncture for back-biting. That has not happened in this House today, and I am sure that there will not be any. We have a Prime Minister who leads from
Lord Kennet: My Lords, as others have done, perhaps I may declare my absolute and natural support for what my noble friend Lord Gilbert said about our military people in the theatre and my absolute agreement about the horrible actions of the Milosevic regime in Kosovo. However, in the nature of things I stand further back than he can. I hope that my noble friend and others will realise that I speak from a desire that peace should be restored and civilised life resumed in that unhappy country, and that wrongdoers should be dealt with as soon as possible.
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been preparing for two simultaneous regional wars: one in the Middle East; and one in the Far East, on the Korean Peninsular. They have not happened because the Arab states and Turkey on the one hand and South Korea on the other prefer more peaceful ways. There has thus been no recent planning for war in Europe. So what we see is an improvised American war with a small British expenditure of expensive weaponry, failing to achieve its stated aims. We see that "smart" weapons do not necessarily make for a "smart" war. High tech does not beat low tech--a forgotten lesson from Vietnam; and whoever told the President that air war would succeed, and that he could safely assure the Europeans that it would succeed, has a lot to answer for. All the military in Washington, although not yet here, are letting it be known that it was not they who advised him to that effect. So who did? Presumably, they were the same forces which, acting privately, persuaded President Reagan that total protection against nuclear weapons was possible, to the horror of his Secretary of Defense who knew nothing of it. The world had to take a year or two off intelligent work to persuade President Reagan that "star wars" was a pipe dream.
The pie in the sky this time seems to have been success in Kosovo in time for NATO's 50th anniversary here in London, as Mr. Strobe Talbott was implying at the NATO at 50 Conference in London. That great jamboree was of course largely funded by the arms industry. And now the US Air Force, with our small help, has been shown unable to succeed without the US Army on the ground. The Balkans are not an Arab desert, and the US Army cannot be there because there cannot be American body-bags.
Now a second humanitarian catastrophe on a scale difficult to imagine and impossible for us to know is being added to the original one; and that is ours. The civil infrastructure of Serbia, and perhaps the historic heritage of Serbia, are being bombed--and bombed without, apparently, any thought for the morrow. With that comes the ruination of part of Europe. War has become its own justification.
What professional military judgment decided to destroy important international bridges, and to block the Danube, one of the principal international thoroughfares of European trade? Who decided to cut off the power and the water supply and to destroy the television centre? Is that consistent with the rules of war? What political judgment allowed the bombing of Montenegro?
Behind all these questions lies the new NATO strategic concept, adopted in Washington a week or two ago. It seeks, in often ambiguous language, to establish NATO's right to legitimate its own use of force, and this seems to be what is claimed for the present operations. If a number of NATO allies agree to attack another sovereign state, it cannot but be lawful, even in the absence of a specific Security Council resolution. Is this now generally believed within NATO? Are the Government content that all other states or groups of states in the world should be able to make the same claim? Alternatively, are we still legitimising our attacks under the rubric of "overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe", not under the new NATO strategic concept, since that had not even been agreed when we began bombing? Are we claiming that one catastrophe justifies the infliction of another?
International law about "overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe" is unwritten and still uncertain. I have a note of a question and answer exchange between myself and my noble friend Lady Symons last November; but I shall not weary the House with it. I expect that the noble Baroness would agree that the position is uncertain, although we would part company on the best interpretation to put on the uncertainty. In her last answer she concluded that a decision on whether or not it was right to invade a sovereign state on these occasions would depend on the relevant decisions of the Security Council bearing on the situation in question. Where are the relevant decisions of the Security Council in this case; or has something changed since last November which makes it no longer necessary to answer that question?
The escalation is now "in support" not of any UN resolution but of NATO's credibility, "in support" of the mere determination of our leaders; and that only too human purpose has had the effect of reduplicating the horror of the humanitarian catastrophe we went there to avert.
But we have an ethical dimension to our foreign policy and must recognise that the bombs are ours and the targets chosen by us. Milosevic--we must face the fact--has not broken the provisions of the United Nations charter, but we are doing so. He has indeed broken the international conventions on civilians, proportionality, human rights and much else, but we have now in large respect followed suit. On the last charge, we even hear from Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, whom I hope the Government still feel we know and should listen to. We have been rebuked.
War is also phenomenally expensive. Britain was financially ruined by World War II. As less world history is taught, and taught more narrowly and subjectively, so the knowledge not only of other times but of other countries and civilisations dims. No, Saddam Hussein is not like Hitler; nor is Milosevic. No, the blitz on London did not make Londoners rise to embrace Hitler.
Going to war in, or even for, or for the sake of, the Balkans has been avoided by the European powers with justified care between 1918 and last month. We should have remembered the depth of hatred and contempt, unparalleled in Europe, in which the many different peoples there hold one another, and the unparalleled degree of ethnic and religious cohabitation.
We should also have remembered that those peoples have the shortest experience of all European peoples in self-government, and the most recent memory of imperial domination. They also have the only European memory of a non-European imperial domination in a thousand years. We should have understood that a history like that produces not only cruelty and unreason, but also a stubborn and reckless courage which is unknown to the rest of us. And have not the Croatians been guilty of ethnic cleansing, and the Albanians in Albania, and the Kosovars themselves?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page