THE KOSOVO CONFLICT – 18 May 1999

Dr Julian Lewis: It is customary to refer to earlier speeches, and I shall do so in a couple of cases.

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr Livingstone) summarised some of the confusion to be found among those on the Government Benches. I agreed with much of the thrust of his argument, but I believe that I heard him say towards the end of his speech that, even if we were the only nation that was proposing to use ground forces, we should nevertheless do so. The problem with that is that we are not proposing to use ground forces. We are hearing a dual message from the Government: on the one hand, we are given literal statements that it is not intended that ground forces should be used, but, on the other hand, we hear inspired leaks that suggest that the Prime Minister is out there in Washington, bravely campaigning to get a reluctant Bill Clinton to put his money where his mouth his and send his troops into battle. Those messages cannot both be true: if one is true, the other is not, but both cannot be true simultaneously.

The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr Marshall-Andrews) rightly deplored one Member's use of personal invective against another, but, sadly, that did not prevent him from employing a great deal of personal invective against Jamie Shea. He asked to whom Jamie Shea is responsible –

Mr Alan Clark: He is not a Member of Parliament.

Dr Lewis: My right hon. Friend is quite right – Jamie Shea is not a Member of Parliament. My point is that the hon. and learned Member for Medway is applying a double standard, in that those who are Members of Parliament may not be criticised, whereas those who are not may be.

I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that Jamie Shea is responsible to someone who is easily identifiable – the Secretary-General of NATO. Since taking his doctorate in relevant studies, he has spent his entire adult career working for the safety of the west. I remember him working as NATO's youth officer 15 or more years ago, when many right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches were trying to dismantle NATO's nuclear defences in the face of the Soviet threat. A man such as Dr Jamie Shea need not fear criticism from some hon. Members present in the Chamber today.

It has been said that we should leave everything to the United Nations, but the UN was deliberately designed not to be able to resolve conflicts in which major powers were involved. It exists as a structure to enable major powers to get together if they want to resolve crises between themselves, and to enable major powers to resolve crises between minor powers, but the veto was established for a good reason – in recognition that conflicts cannot be wished away by a simple vote if the powers involved are large enough to impose their will no matter how many hands are raised in the air. Democracies cannot, and should not, depend on the UN for all initiatives to go to war.

Hitler attacked Poland in 1939 – he did not attack Britain in 1939, because he did not want to be at war with Britain in 1939. Nevertheless, we went to war with Hitler on behalf of Poland, even though we knew that we could not do anything practical to prevent the Poles being overrun. We went to war, albeit belatedly, for a principle. I believe that the Government are right in their action and in their motives, because they are going to war – they do not call it a war, but they should be more open about such matters – for the same principle. If a structure such as the United Nations had existed in 1939, it would not have been technically permissible for us to declare war on Hitler in the way that we did.

For a democracy to go to war, three things are necessary: the motives must be justifiable, the aims must be realistic and, above all, the methods must be effective. I was one of only three Conservative Members who, from an early stage and throughout 1998, consistently called for military action to be taken against Milosevic if necessary. I draw some comfort from the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr Colvin), the last Conservative Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, was one of the other two.

I was also one of a somewhat larger group who consistently said that to rule out the use of ground forces at the outset was a naive and counter-productive act – an act that was aimed, not at our potential enemy, on whom such acts should be targeted, but at our own domestic electorate. Taking that step did our domestic electorate an injustice. It enabled Milosevic to disperse and hide many of his forces, which he would otherwise have kept concentrated and thus vulnerable to air strikes. That is the view not just of an armchair ex-academic strategist like me but of Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon – the most recent ex-Chief of the Air Staff. His view was published on 9 May in the Sunday Telegraph, and it is absolutely correct.

We have four basic options in dealing with Milosevic. We could aim, first, to remove him and to put him on trial. Secondly, we could try to contain him in Serbia but drive him completely out of Kosovo. Thirdly, we could try to compromise with Milosevic, either by returning Kosovo entirely to his rule with agreed conditions or by returning part of Kosovo to him. That would mean partition of the province. Finally, we could close down the NATO operation completely after a decent interval. Interestingly, on 31 March, the Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta gave an assessment of the strategy suggested by Primakov when he and his team visited Milosevic. That rather influential Russian newspaper suggested that the Russians had called for the partitioning of Kosovo into a Serb region and an independent region.

Depending on which option we choose, we will have to use one of the following methods. If we decide to remove and try Milosevic, air power and a full-scale invasion of Serbia will be required. If we are not prepared to do that, we should stop talking about putting Milosevic on trial and bringing his regime to justice because it ain't going to happen. If we opt for containment within Serbia, it will require air power and a full-scale invasion not of Serbia but of Kosovo. If we opt for compromise, it will require air power and the genuine threat of at least a limited invasion of Kosovo – if not by NATO forces, then by other local forces, as occurred in Bosnia. Finally, if we opt for an exit and decide to close down the NATO operation after a decent interval, that is a form of gesture politics involving limited risk and effort – which may indeed be achieved by air power alone.

The Government must decide whether they are engaged in a limited or a total war. They keep using the rhetoric of a total war while employing the methods of a limited war. Professor Sir Michael Howard, the eminent strategic historian, has defined the two approaches in the following way. He said:

"A limited war is one fought for a limited objective and ends with a freely negotiated peace with an adversary with whom one can then renew normal relations."

That is what occurred with Argentina over the Falklands. Sir Michael continued:

"A total war is one fought to overthrow the adversary, render him powerless, and dictate peace to him on one's own terms."

That is the approach that characterised world war two. This conflict started as the first type of war, but it seems set to end as the second if the Serb forces refuse to withdraw. As a member of NATO, Britain is advancing aims that sound limited but, in reality, is demanding concessions that can be achieved only through a total war.

The Prime Minister must make up his mind: he must recognise either that Milosevic will stay in power – in which case he must do a deal – or that this is not a limited but a total conflict and that he will have to go all out for the overthrow of Milosevic.