Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Alan Clark: A clumsy war
Nato's air strikes "have worsened conditions on the ground"
Edited transcript of comments made by Alan Clark, MP for Kensington and Chelsea, in the House of Commons
I must start by saying that it is my opinion that this war is clumsy, wasteful and shambolic. I accept that the intentions of many of those who have signed up to it are honourable, but I can see neither clearly defined objectives nor any measurable progress in attaining them. Our prime minister appears to be making things up as he goes along.
I recognise that to state that leaves one open immediately to two charges. The first is that of wilfully condoning, or appeasing - as the secretary of state for international development said in answer to a question from me last week - the cruel and barbaric atrocities that have been perpetrated in parts of Yugoslavia. The second is that of wilfully, by implication, undermining the morale of our armed forces.
The first of those charges is, of course, absurd. General accusations that are neither justified nor applicable are no way to address the complexities, the centuries-old feuds and vendettas of Balkan tribesmen.
As for the second, it is certainly an uncomfortable charge to lay at the door of any Conservative member - not least a former minister at the Ministry of Defence - that he has undermined the morale and effectiveness of our fighting men.
Two of my sons, one of whom was decorated with the Gulf medal, have served in the army. That gives me a strong entitlement to say that British service men are not recruited to kill non-combatants. Were they ever to do so, it is no more than our electorate would expect for us in this place to protest.
Let me say that, although the camouflage of the Nato flag is used to divest and to spread responsibility for what has happened in recent days, I am entirely satisfied that the events are in no way attributable to the Royal Air Force.
The United States air force is another case altogether. Over many years, its record has been abominable, whether we are talking about Iranian air liners, British soldiers in personnel carriers, bridges, trains, factories or, apparently, refugee convoys in Yugoslavia. That air force is the worst instrument, the House might think, to let loose in a conflict where the distinction between combatant and non-combatant is often variable and elusive.
It will not be lost on the House that it is an order from the Pentagon that has prevented the somewhat muddled and inchoate Nato press office from showing the video of the attack on the refugee convoy. My heart sank when I heard that a contingent from the Number 10 press office was being sent to Brussels to help Nato to put a spin on things. One does not spin details of accident and bloodshed.
The KLA are exactly the sort of people British service men should never fight alongside. It has been suggested that we should undertake to arm the KLA. Labour Members may recall the Contras, the Sandinistas and other groups who were armed by the CIA. That is the company that we will be in if we arm the KLA.
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