Patrick WintourWar strategy ridiculed
Friday July 21, 2000
Britain's second most senior defence minister during the Kosovo conflict has made a scathing attack on the conduct of the war, the inadequacy of British intelligence and the role of President Jacques Chirac of France in endangering the safety of his own pilots.
During the war, Lord Gilbert was defence minister of state formally responsible for intelligence. In evidence to the defence select committee published yesterday he claimed that allied forces forced Slobodan Milosevic into a war.
"I think certain people were spoiling for a fight in Nato at that time. I think the terms put to Milosevic at Rambouillet were absolutely intolerable: how could he possibly accept them? It was quite deliberate."
He accused his own intelligence chiefs of adopting a patronising attitude and refusing to give him information.
In a rare attack on a fellow Nato member, Lord Gilbert singled out Mr Chirac for criticism, especially his admission that he vetoed the destruction of bridges across the rivers in Belgrade. He described this as "one of the most extraordinary remarks for a western statesman ever to have made".
He sarcastically praised Mr Chirac for "having the courage to take responsibility for the fact that the hostilities went on far longer than they need have done, that the poor people in Kosovo suffered consequently far more than they need have done, and that his own pilots were put at risk far more than was necessary". He said the Nato policy of choosing targets in staged increments was "a military nonsense from the very beginning, based on political timidity".
Lord Gilbert ridiculed the suggestion made by the chief of the defence staff, Sir Charles Guthrie, that Nato would have been in a position to mount an opposed invasion into Kosovo last September in time to drive out the Serbian army.
"I think a land invasion of Kosovo would have been possible by September but by September this year, not by September last year," he said, adding that Ministry of Defence intelligence ought to "be picked up by the scruff of the neck and shaken. A very serious look needs to be taken at the quality of British and US intelligence."
Lord Gilbert said: "We also got extremely varying intelligence on the state of Serb morale and what was happening post-Milosevic. I have to say that it was very difficult to know what to believe from one day to the next."
He also found that Dera, the defence evaluation and research agency, "employs no fewer than 100 psychologists. I was very surprised when I found this out." In vetted evidence, Lord Gilbert discussed its role and said: "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."