HC Deb 10 February 1994 vol 237 cc447-58 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

With permission, I should like to make a statement on Sarajevo.

In the senseless atrocities last week, about 70 civilians were killed. Their deaths showed again how urgent it is to end the war. It will not end by military victory. A lasting settlement cannot be imposed. It can only be achieved by agreement between the parties. The Government repeat their full support for the efforts of Lord Owen and Mr. Stoltenberg. I welcome recent indications that the United States wants to take a more forward part in the peace process.

Meanwhile, every sane person wants to see an end to the bombardment of Sarajevo. As hon. Members will be aware, and as the Prime Minister has just said, the Secretary-General of the United Nations wrote to his NATO counterpart on 6 February, asking the North Atlantic Council to authorise its military command to launch air strikes on request from the United Nations. Mr. Bourtros-Ghali recalled NATO's readiness, following its decisions last August that were reaffirmed at the NATO summit in January, to carry out air strikes to protect UNPROFOR and to prevent the strangulation of Sarajevo.

NATO ambassadors met yesterday, in the North Atlantic Council. They reaffirmed NATO's support for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Bosnia, agreed by all parties. They commended the United Nations negotiating efforts to secure the demilitarisation of Sarajevo. In support of those efforts, they agreed on three main points.

First, with immediate effect, they accepted the Secretary-General of the United Nation's request to be prepared to launch air strikes, at United Nations initiative and in co-ordination with UNPROFOR, the United Nations force on the ground, against artillery or mortar positions that UNPROFOR determines are responsible for attacks against civilian targets in Sarajevo.

Secondly, the North Atlantic Council called on the parties to respect a ceasfire around Sarajevo. The Bosnian Serbs were called on to withdraw all heavy weapons from within 20 km of the city, excluding an area within 2 km of the centre of the Bosnian Serb capital of Pale, or to place their heavy weapons under UNPROFOR control. The Bosnian Government, for their part, were called on to place their heavy weapons in the same area under United Nations control and to refrain from attacks within the city.

Thirdly, the Council decided that all heavy weapons, along with their direct and essential military support, found within 20 km of Sarajevo and not under United Nations control after 10 days from 24.00 GMT—midnight—tonight, 10 February, would be subject to NATO air strikes. Those air strikes would be conducted in close co-ordination with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

As the Prime Minister has just said, the Government fully support those decisions. We helped to ensure that they were discussed and taken in NATO rather than any other forum because of the need for professional military advice. The NATO Council will be kept fully informed of all developments, day by day, and will review yesterday's decision at the latest on 2 March. We were clear that any strategy for the use of force should be forward looking. There was no support in the Council for action which was simply punitive.

We have, since last August, been prepared—publicly prepared—to see air power used, if necessary and practicable, to back the United Nations in carrying out its mandate. The United Nations, with NATO support is taking an increasingly firm position and not only in Sarajevo.

It is pressing ahead with the rotation of troops in Srebrenica; pressing for Tuzla airport to reopen; confronting obstacles to road convoys; and warning off the Croatian regular army from entering the war on the side of the Bosnian Croats. The North Atlantic Council decision forms part of this pattern, specifically aimed at improving the situation in Sarajevo, helping the United Nations to fulfil its mandate and contributing to pressure on the parties to end the war.

We look to the parties, particularly the Bosnian Serbs, to respond. Their aims cannot be achieved on the battlefield, or by killing and mutilating civilians. They should end the siege of Sarajevo and hand it over to the United Nations administration. Such an agreement would mark a real step towards a peaceful settlement. If the Bosnian Serbs do not so respond, they are now in no doubt of the action which NATO and the United Nations will take.

No one would pretend that this was for us or for anyone an easy decision. The risks are clear, and so are the advantages if it succeeds. It is the job of Governments to test and re-test options of this kind and decide where the British interest lies.

There is a strong British interest in maintaining the strength and solidarity of NATO. In Bosnia, our interest lies in preventing the war from spreading, in helping forward the work for a peace settlement, and in relieving the suffering of the Bosnian people. We judge that these interests of ours are best sustained by supporting the NATO decision and working for its success.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

The House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making a statement so quickly after the very important decision of the NATO Council yesterday. May I first associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with his comments when he says that everyone wants an end to the killing in Bosnia, especially to the senseless slaughter of innocent civilians?

I also accept what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about there being no victory on the battlefield. It is quite clear that the combatants are gearing up for a spring offensive. We should make it clear to them all that we will have no part in supporting any side in seeking to achieve a military victory; rather, we should impress on them again and again the need for a swift negotiated settlement to this awful series of conflicts.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we believe that the decison taken by NATO yesterday was the correct one? It was the correct decision in terms of ending the slaughter of innocent people in Sarajevo. It was also the correct decision in terms of reinforcing the will of the international community as expressed through the resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations, the decisions of the Council of Ministers of the European Union and, of course, NATO itself.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the decision, if implemented, will fall within the terms of existing resolutions of the Security Council, and that it will not be necessary for further meetings of that council to take place before the use of air strikes can be authorised?

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the decision was not taken, as it could and should have been, many, many months ago? The tragedy is that those, including myself, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and many others, who called for the use of NATO's vastly superior air power in April of last year, were condemned by many of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters sitting behind him.

The international community has come to accept, however, that that is the right decision. We had to make it clear, to the Bosnian Serbs in particular, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that we are not willing to countenance the continuing slaughter of people, as occurred last weekend in Sarajevo.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also explain what action will be taken to safeguard, in so far as it is possible, our troops already deployed in UNPROFOR and the troops of other countries during the period set out in the ultimatum—in the next 10 days. The ceasefire, which has been so quickly established by Lieutenant-General Rose—who deserves our congratulations—is welcome. If it is sustained, will NATO deploy extra troops in Sarajevo and elsewhere?

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that efforts to open Tuzla airport, another decision of the Security Council, will be redoubled? Can he assure us that we shall take effective action to ensure that, in addition to Sarajevo, other towns and cities that have been designated as safe areas will be made safe for their citizens?

I emphasise that we agree with the support of the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister for the NATO decision. We simply regret that it has taken them so long to agree with the Governments of the United States of America, France and other countries, who have pressed for the decision for a long time. Most of all, I express the hope and the wish that the Bosnian Serbs will accept, comply with and implement the decisions that have been taken, without the need to resort finally to the use of air power. If they do not, we should not flinch from the decision to use it.

Mr. Hurd

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman supports the decision that was taken yesterday. I confirm that our advice and view is that it falls within the scope of existing Security Council resolutions and does not require a further Security Council resolution. But the first use of air power-if that has to be used-does require the authority of the United Nations Secretary-General.

The right hon. Gentleman should be in no doubt that if, at any time during the past 18 months or two years, we and our allies had felt that the tragedy could have been brought to an end through military action, we would have so acted. If we and our allies had thought that such action was practicable, we would not have been handicapped for moral or legal reasons.

In May last year, we began to discuss with our allies the possibility of the use of air power, and in August NATO publicly declared its readiness. One has to weigh the results of one's actions. We had to test and re-test, over and over again, the different possibilities and options. The NATO allies were right to conclude yesterday that we could proceed, and that the benefit of proceeding outweighed the risk of proceeding. That is why I believe that it was right yesterday for us and our allies to take the action that we did.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to extra troops. I cannot say that extra troops may be needed in Sarajevo, or whether there will be a redeployment of existing UNPROFOR forces. UNPROFOR is short of troops, and the Secretary-General has frequently appealed for more. One reason why the safe areas resolution has not been fully implemented is shortage of troops.

We are doing our bit; I think that the right hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that. There has been no request for extra British troops. I certainly hope that the Secretary-General will be able to find contingents of the quantity and quality required.

The right hon. Gentleman was right to draw attention to the problems outside Sarajevo. One of the difficulties in the civil war has been the tendency to concentrate on Sarajevo. That is why the British troops are in action mainly in central Bosnia, relieving need, and it is the reason for the plan that the UN is now perfecting for opening up Tuzla airport. It is also why the Dutch are now in the process of moving into Srebrenica, and why it is so important not to forget the needs of places such as Mostar.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have now reached the sombre moment when all the remaining choices open to us in this affair are fraught with the most enormous dangers? Many of us appreciate the heavy burden on the shoulders of my right hon. Friend, who has to make difficult and agonising choices. In the circumstances, the present attempt to demilitarise Sarajevo, with the backing of the ultimatum from the NATO powers, is probably the least worst choice.

Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend continue to impress firmly upon our NATO allies three factors? The first is that this should be a very limited operation, and must not open the way to a vast operation trying to solve all the problems. The second requirement is for both the troops and the relief workers on the ground to be protected in the most thorough, systematic and sustained way possible. Thirdly, and above all, peace will come only through the combatants themselves, in a balanced situation, reaching peace and agreeing to stop the killing. They alone can end the war.

Mr. Hurd

I agree with all my right hon. Friend's points. Yesterday's decision, which I have summarised for the House, is specific to Sarajevo, and to heavy weapons in and around Sarajevo. It is addressed to all parties, not to one party alone. As I have said, the NATO countries will review its implementation in three weeks' time. That is the nature of the decision. We do not and will not pretend that by armed force we can impose a settlement. Those in arty of the warring parties who wish to draw outside Governments and armed forces into the conflict to resolve it will find themselves disappointed.

My right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Copeland asked about the safety of our forces. For my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and for the Government as a whole, that must be a paramount concern. Of course there are plans, and have been for some time, for their protection or reinforcement if necessary.

My right hon. and learned Friend has told the House of those plans in the past. He announced last year that other capabilities would be available as a contingency to draw on as necessary. That specifically includes NATO close air support. I do not think that the House would expect me to give more details of those plans.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

Whatever differences of opinion there may have been in the past, is it not now right that the British forces who may be called upon to implement NATO's decisions should know and understand that they have the support of the whole House?

With regard to close air support, can the Secretary of State confirm that there are immediately available to NATO adequate resources to provide proper protection of forces on the ground if they come under attack? I welcome the continued commitment to the opening of Tuzla airport. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether, at yesterday's meeting, there was any discussion of the means by which, and the time scale within which, that might be achieved?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his comments. Yes, I can certainly undertake that the resources are clearly available to NATO to carry out air support and air strikes if need be, as decided yesterday. They are deployed and ready, and plans have been in place for some time as to how they may be used.

At Tuzla airport, there are three airstrips, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows. The outline scheme is that two of them should be closed and one of them should be open for humanitarian supplies. There should be monitors to ensure that those supplies are humanitarian and that the airport is not used for the entry of arms for any of the warring parties.

The United Nations is preparing that scheme. Mr. Akashi has drawn up a scheme, as I have outlined. He is now seeking to find ways in which to put it into effect.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

Given the importance of the NATO alliance and of our European alliances to our defence, it must be right that my hon. Friend has agreed with our allies to take the steps which have been announced. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the deep concern in the House and in the country over the consequences of those actions, if they are allowed to get out of hand.

May I reiterate what has already been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) on the importance of keeping it a limited action, which clearly defined objectives and an exit path that is well known, so that we do not slip down the path to open war?

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House of the possible reaction of the Russians? I saw a press announcement today that said that the Russians had called for a United Nations Security Council meeting. I would welcome anything that my right hon. Friend may be able to tell the House to reassure us that the Russians will not take any overt action on behalf of the Serbs and against the NATO allies.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the way in which he phrased his questions. He rightly placed a heavy accent on the importance to this country and its defence policy of the strength and solidarity of NATO, as I said in my statement. Anyone who has followed the discussions with our allies or is in the allied countries will know how many of them believe, especially the United States, that the action agreed yesterday was a crucial test for the Atlantic allies. That consideration could not by itself have led us to support a scheme which was fatally flawed. My hon. Friend is perfectly right to stress that that must be in the scale of the balance of judgment.

I agree with him about the paramount need for the security of our forces, which includes their ability, if need be, to withdraw in good order. As I said, the plans are there. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has made plans and has to some degree announced them for that purpose. As my hon. Friend knows, we are reviewing, together with the other countries which have troops on the ground, the future of that effort. We were doing that before the past weekend. That review, which needs to be completed by the end of March, is continuing, and we are in close touch with other troop contributors.

My hon. Friend is perfectly right about the Russians. As I said in answer to the right hon. Member for Copeland it is our advice, and the view of the Secretary-General, that a new Security Council resolution is not needed for that purpose. The Secretary-General keeps in close touch with the Russian Government, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is going to Moscow on Monday. That will provide a good, unique opportunity not only to listen to President Yeltsin's view on that subject, but to impress on him the limited nature and the importance for the peace process of the decision taken by NATO yesterday.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

To take up that point, it is essential that the Foreign Secretary can assure the House that the new determination by the North Atlantic Council and by those involved will be pursued to its objective if necessary. Therefore, the views of the Russians are essential.

Is it not proper that we should know, and that the Foreign Secretary should know, exactly what the Russians are saying, because we have all seen those reports? We have also seen the reaction of Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs. He has made it clear that, as far as he is concerned, NATO does not have any role. How does the Secretary of State react to that. It is important that the House knows exactly what steps the Foreign Secretary has taken to ensure that the Russians understand that we mean to move ahead.

Mr. Hurd

We have indeed taken steps, as have our allies and the Secretary-General, to ensure that the Russians understand what is proposed. They have criticised it from outside in general terms. That is all that can accurately be said at the moment. There is no legal provision that requires their consent before NATO acts on this decision.

The House and anyone who follows this matter have been accustomed to hearing from Mr. Karadzic, possibly several times a day, for a long time now. We know how to assess the validity of each pronouncement. What counts is not so much Mr. Karadzic's pronouncements as what now happens—whether the Bosnian Serb military honour the agreement reached orally by General Rose yesterday, and whether the Bosnian Serbs comply with the requirements of the NATO decision. They have more powerful incentives to do so now than have ever existed before. That is the test.

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), does my right hon. Friend agree that, just as it is true that the NATO alliance has provided the cornerstone of our defence and security for the past 40 years, it is equally true that it has shown more suppleness and intelligence in adapting to the new world order than has any other alliance or international organisation to which we belong?

It would have been inconceivable to us that a difficult decision of this kind, discussed in close concert with our allies, which involves perhaps the most important out-of-area action that NATO has taken, should not be supported by the British Government. It is crucial to us and to the future security of our country that NATO should continue to play the kind of role for world peace and security in the new order that it played in the old order.

Mr. Hurd

I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. We had a successful NATO summit, which the Prime Minister attended, in January. It was successful because it defined for the first time—more clearly than before—the role of NATO in the post-war world. At that summit, it was very clear that our main allies—and certainly the United States—felt passionately about the Bosnian issue.

If we had frustrated yesterday's decision, I do not doubt that we would have administered to ourselves—to our own defence policy—a severe shock. However, as I have said, that would not have been a conclusive argument if we had felt, on listening to our own military advice, that the proposal was unsustainable and untenable.

The point of deciding it in NATO, the point of going through the planning procedures, and the point of having the NATO council with the chairman of the Military Committee there present was precisely that the proposal could be adapted, as it was, and modified, as it was in discussion yesterday, to make it as workmanlike and professional as possible.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the responsibility for global peace rests with the United Nations and not with NATO, which is not the policeman of the world? The danger of the Secretary-General organising air strikes against the opposition of Russia, a permament member of the Security Council, poses far greater threats for the future of the United Nations.

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that any action of this kind must necessarily involve the commitment of far greater numbers of British forces? Is he aware that the question will arise, if the Royal Air Force bombs Serbia, whether we are at war with Serbia in law? Have any contingency plans been made to consider the political implications that may follow if the intervention in the Balkan war escalates, as clearly it could do, with very grave consequences for peace in Europe and in the world as a whole?

Mr. Hurd

The United Nations is governed by its charter. Its charter is very precise about the role of the Security Council and Secretary-General. Within the charter, the Security Council passes resolutions. They require unanimity.

Everyone concerned knows the balance of authority within the United Nations. I have seen no serious challenge to the view that I have expressed, on which the Secretary-General has acted, that he was acting perfectly properly under the resolutions already passed in writing his letter to the Secretary-General of NATO, and he would be acting perfectly properly if—and it is still an "if"—he were asked by NATO to authorise our action for the first time. Those are the rules; that is the charter; and every member state knows about it.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about escalation and bombing Serbia. Nothing in the decision has anything to do with bombing Serbia. I told my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) that the decision is limited to Sarajevo and heavy weapons, and is addressed to both parties, so the right hon. Gentleman is flying away in fancy on that. What was the right hon. Gentleman's final point?

Mr. Benn

What contingency plans have been made in the event that the initial bombing leads to an escalation that spreads to war?

Mr. Hurd

He had a further point which I have forgotten and which he also seems to have forgotten.

Mr. Benn

War with Serbia.

Mr. Hurd

No, I have dealt with that point. There is nothing in this decision which opens that possibility.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the incredible bravery and dignity of the civilian population of Sarajevo? Does he agree that their hopes must not be dashed by another brief respite; what is on the line now is the whole credibility of NATO and the United Nations; and while accepting the heavy responsibility that my right hon. Friend bears, we need more talk of resolution and less of difficulties.

Mr. Hurd

Bosnia is full of civilians who are suffering. Some of them are Bosnian Serbs, some of them are Bosnian Croats and some of them are Bosnian Muslims. Essentially, it is a civil war that originated from Belgrade and the Bosnian Serbs, which is why they carry the heaviest responsibility, sustained to some extent b,' the old JNA—the Yugoslav national army—sustained now to some extent by Croat regular units, and sustained to a smaller extent by people who have come in from the middle east to help the Bosnian Muslims.

Through all this fighting, the civilians are the main sufferers, most visibly and most horribly in Sarajevo, but in many other cities and towns as well. That is why our initial effort on this has been designed to help to bring about peace and relieve the suffering of those civilians, to whatever community in Bosnia they belong.

As regards the spread of the war—I now remember the last question of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—we have so far succeeded in preventing the spread of war, although this was widely predicted by our critics all through this time. Of course, the situation in Croatia remains uneasy, but it is confined to a Bosnian war at present. I listed among our main British objectives limiting, preventing, the spread of the war. I believe that the decision taken yesterday, like the other decisions that have been taken, will help in that direction.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

As one who firmly supported the Government's position on Bosnia over the past 18 months, I was alarmed by their change of direction yesterday—an alarming decision that can only lead the United Kingdom further into the morass of the tragedy in Bosnia. Can the Secretary of State tell me whether it is true, as has been suggested, that Russia has demanded a meeting of the Security Council, that the Bosnian Serbs have now left the talks with the other parties involved in the conflict in Bosnia, and that those two developments have taken place within 12 hours of the NATO decision?

As NATO was originally an organisation to come to the defence of its member countries, and now that it has extended its powers to get involved in non-member countries, albeit at the invitation of the United Nations, can the Secretary of State assure us that NATO will not be hijacked by some members who might wish to create a successor to the former Austro-Hungarian empire?

Mr. Hurd

The Russians suggested a meeting of the Security Council some time ago, but that does not affect the legal position which I have defined. I cannot comment—indeed, it would be stupid to do so—on passing reports of the statements of the Bosnian Serbs, because, as I have said, their statements are always all over the place. What counts is not what they say, but what happens.

The future of NATO is a crucial point which was tackled at the previous NATO summit, following almost two years of work. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the essence and the core of NATO—this is too often forgotten—is the collective defence of its existing members. There is also now opening to the east a welcome partnership which has been offered to countries in central and eastern Europe. That also is crucial to the credibility of NATO in many member states.

There was agreement and a strong feeling that NATO should be ready and equipped out of area to handle situations which the member states thought NATO could contribute to helping to resolve. That is limited in the case of Bosnia, because no one suggests that NATO can impose a peace. Anyone on the ground or any member of the warring parties who believes that is deluded. Within the limitations which were laid down first by NATO in August last year, and which were reaffirmed in January, we believe that the decision is a proper use of the authority of NATO.

Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)

I welcome and strongly support my right hon. Friend's statement. Is it not the case that positive action should have been taken 18 months ago? Is it not also the case that, by threatening repeatedly to take action and then doing nothing, the credibility of the international community has been undermined? Hopefully, my right hon. Friend's statement this afternoon will do something to restore that position.

On a more fundamental level, how can it be right to take no international action to defend a sovereign state while seeking to deny that state means of defending itself?

Mr. Hurd

My right hon. Friend and I differ on the history, but that will be resolved by an historian. When an historian looks at the archives, he will find over and over again that the possibilities of military action were considered, not just by us but by the allies. He will find the advice which we received.

My right hon. Friend has been in government, and he knows how these matters work. He will know how advice is proffered, and he will know the responsibility which falls on those who neglect that advice and who set off on enterprises to gain applause without a proper judgment of the consequences. That is why, in all our discussions in different places—particularly during the past few days— we have put the emphasis on the need for military advice. That is why the decision was taken in NATO and not anywhere else.

Although it is common currency at the moment, I do not believe that history will find that opportunities in the past were neglected. That is a matter for the past. The balance of judgment for the interests of Britain and of the alliance as a whole now fall in favour of the decision which was taken yesterday.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that he is engaged in another Government U-turn, and that he has done it with a look on his face which suggests that his heart is not in it? The right hon. Gentleman has told us precisely what the new rules of engagement are—they are contrary to those which he has mentioned previously—and he has explained how the British troops and NATO are to get deeper into this morass.

Surely it is incumbent upon the Foreign Secretary to be able to tell us exactly what the rules of disengagement are? We want to know precisely what will happen if the plan does not work. Can he tell us? Is it not certain that the television pundits and chattering classes who have guided him towards his decision will not be there to give him advice when he needs it?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point, but I do not accept his role as the protector of either my conscience or my intelligence. I will not accept him in that role.

Since May, and certainly in public since August, we have accepted the possibility of the use of air power. As I said earlier, and have said often, if we had believed all through this time that, by some simple military action, the tragedy could have been brought to an end, any Government, and certainly this Government, would have taken it. But that has not been the position.

I have spoken often of the possible use of air power. What Governments have to do is test and re-test the practical possibilities: whether a particular operation would bring more benefit than risk. That is the process which has occurred again this week. It did not come as a U-turn or a surprise. The texts and decisions which the House has heard about and discussed before now have been brought into practical operation because it seemed to NATO as a whole, and certainly to the British Government, that the benefits of the decision outweighed the risks.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the NATO members consider the war in Bosnia to be a civil war, an international conflict, or both? Will the exclusion zone apply to all the belligerents, and in particular the invading Serbian army?

Mr. Hurd

We know this to be a civil war, but as I think I said earlier, it is a civil war which originated in the ambitions of Serbia and the encouragement of the Bosnian Serbs. It is sustained to some extent by Croat regular forces and, to a much smaller extent, by people—commonly called mujaheddin—who have come in to help the Muslims. But it is essentially a war between Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs. The NATO decision does not talk about the origin of the fighting. It talks about the two main forces involved in the Sarajevo area—not the Croats in this case, but the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Government Muslim forces.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

As someone said, this is deja vu all over again. We have issued threats to the Bosnian Serbs on several occasions and not implemented them. Can the Secretary of State give us a guarantee that, if the United Nations resolutions are not complied with, we will not do as we have done many times before and back away? Secondly, can he offer guarantees that, if the Bosnian Serbs comply—their masters have known when to bend—the enthusiasm will not subside when the heat is off, perhaps in a couple of weeks, and the Serbs return to their usual task of bombing innocent civilians?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman mistakes the position. We have said several times, notably in August last year, that NATO would be ready to use air power to defend UNPROFOR forces if attacked. They have not been attacked. We said that we would be ready to consider using NATO air power to prevent the strangulation of Sarajevo. That was the phrase that NATO used.

Yesterday it was decided to use air power for that purpose, in the detail that I described to the House. I do not think that the Bosnian Serbs, or anyone, is in any doubt that, unless the ultimatum and the requirements are met, force will be used within the limitations—they are very clear—which the NATO decision set out yesterday.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. We must now move on.