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Monday, August 2, 1999 Published at 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK


UK Politics

Robertson's sights on new target

Geroge Robertson handled the media well in the Kosovo crisis

Defence Secretary George Robertson, who has been nominated as the next Nato Secretary-General, is no stranger to the world stage.

To outsiders, it might well have been surprising that such a seemingly low-profile and softly-spoken man could have adapted so well to the nerve-jangling crisis in Kosovo.

But Mr Robertson had begun to build up a reputation as an enthusiast for defence issues since the 1997 General Election.

His liking for a good photocall and strengths as a spokesman - he was photographed on top of a tank in Macedonia - was apparent before the Kosovo crisis erupted.

He is likely to work well with the Nato press secretary Jamie Shea, who has also built up a reputation as an adept media operator.


[ image: Regarded as a moderate]
Regarded as a moderate
Mr Robertson's strengths were illustrated by an incident on a visit to Kuwait last year when he met RAF crew members involved in the Iraq conflict.

He climbed a ladder up to a Tornado aircraft during a media photocall only to come up against a crew member.

Asked what he was doing by Mr Robertson, the crew member said: "It's my job to make sure no-one stands on the aircraft."

Mr Robertson replied: "Stand aside because it is my Tornado."

He then gave a television interview with one foot firmly planted on the aircraft to make his point.

Mr Robertson is regarded as a canny Scots moderate and a pillar of Labour orthodoxy.

When Labour came to power in the spring of 1997, he was unexpectedly made Defence Secretary after spending the previous four years campaigning for Scottish devolution.


[ image: Dunblane: A formative period]
Dunblane: A formative period
He immediately instituted a defence review in the face of some opposition within the services, although he remains popular with senior officers.

He faces the problem of how to handle post-Cold War defence issues and what forces are required in the era following nuclear proliferation.

In the spring of this year he was a leading minister involved in strategic policy making on the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia, after the expulsion of people of Albanian ethnic origin from Kosovo.

He sometimes had to explain away "accidents" in which civilians were killed by stray missiles.

Vindicated

However, the policy appeared to pay off and the Yugoslavs withdrew all their forces in June.

Mr Robertson was previously involved in embarrassing changes of Labour policy over devolution referendums - which proved successful when they were held.

Now aged 53, major formative experiences in his life were a near fatal car crash in the Highlands more than 20 years ago and the tragedy of Dunblane, where he and his wife and children still live.

He consoled the people of Dunblane in 1996, together with Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth, after the primary school killings there.

He was named Parliamentarian of the Year in 1993 for his opposition to the Maastricht Bill as Labour's spokesman on Europe.

From a police family, he was on many boards and committees in the Scottish community before his political career took him further afield.



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