§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bates.]4.35 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
I am glad that the House is debating the position in the former Yugoslavia. I apologise to the House because, as I told the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), a private commitment tonight will prevent me from being here for the winding-up speeches.
Four years ago next month, fighting erupted in the old Yugoslavia, briefly in Slovenia, then in Croatia. This autumn, it will be three years since a British battalion group first deployed with the UN protection force in Bosnia. The whole House agrees that it has done stalwart work, but we remain far from a settlement to the crisis.
In the past few weeks, fighting has once again returned to the front pages. Our attention has been pulled back to the precarious balance that prevails in Croatia as well as in Bosnia. There is a real risk of a relapse into substantial war, in place of the ragged peace of recent months. I can briefly update the House on the facts as I know them since we had our exchanges last week.
In Croatia, levels of tension are high, following the Croatian military action in western Slavonia last week and the shelling of Zagreb in response by the Krajina Serbs. Over the weekend, there have been reports of shelling of the remaining Serb held pockets in western Slavonia, and the situation in other areas of Croatia is also tense. On Sunday, UNPROFOR secured agreement from the parties to withdraw their forces from the confrontation line. However, as yet there is little sign of that happening.
I told President Tudjman of our deep anxiety in London on Sunday, and urged him to prevent further military action by the Croatian forces. Chancellor Kohl, who was with us, endorsed my comments. President Tudjman assured me that Croatian forces would take no further military action. That commitment has to be met.
In Bosnia, too, the situation is tense, although there have been no significant recent changes in the military balance. In the past few days, shelling and other exchanges of fire have intensified including at Bihac, Tuzla and the Posavina corridor. There was a particularly violent incident on Sunday, when the Bosnian Serbs shelled Butmir near Sarajevo, killing 10 Bosnian soldiers and civilians, and wounding up to 10 other people.
Some conclude from this upsurge of violence, both in Croatia and Bosnia, that we face a futile task, which it would be better to abandon.
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman a little later.
We are not yet at the point at which, in our judgment, it is right to abandon the task. The work that we and our partners are carrying out in the former Yugoslavia may one day become impossible to sustain, but lives are being saved, towns and villages are being restored to something like normality, and a wider war is being averted.
583 I should like to explain to the House the balance of our judgment, and we shall listen carefully to what the House says about that balance. As I speak, in our judgment the risks are undoubted, the benefits still real. So far, we have judged that the benefits outweigh the risks. We believe that is so today. It may not always be so.
There have been two sets of criticisms of our policy: that we should be doing a good deal more than we are, or that we should be doing a good deal less. Each time, we have, of course, often considered the alternatives. They have always seemed to us worse than the situation that they are supposed to cure.
We need to remind ourselves in what British interest our troops and aid workers went to the Balkans, and why they remain. In August 1992, 1.8 million people had been forced out of their homes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Britain had taken the lead in establishing an airlift to Sarajevo to help feed and provide for those people, but the fighting across Bosnia and the lack of proper logistic support severely hampered the relief work. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees foresaw a humanitarian catastrophe that winter.
Beyond the human crisis, we saw a risk of sliding from local fighting, which of course is cruel and destructive, into a regional conflagration, which might spread beyond control. No one could or can ignore the fault lines that run through that part of Europe today, as they have for centuries. As the killing continued in Croatia and in Bosnia, we watched anxiously for the news of the first violence in Kosovo, Macedonia and elsewhere. We saw then, and they are still visible, the signs of the danger of a wider Balkan war, in which the United States of America and Russia would back different sides.
We were clear as to what we could do to save lives and contain the conflict. We were also clear as to what we could not do, and I have tried to be frank with the House about that at all times. We were not willing—not Britain, not Europe and certainly not the United States—to impose a settlement from outside by force. We could not start to build something new from the ruins of Yugoslavia while its peoples continued to tear down the building and fight over the rubble.
The main responsibility—again I repeat what I have said consistently to the House—for starting the war rests with the Serbs, but in essence these have always been civil wars. We cannot find peace by ejecting Croatian Serbs and Bosnian Serbs from their own lands in Croatia and Bosnia. The war in Bosnia has involved at least three parties, none of them a majority in that country. What military solution can there be in such circumstances? In practice, only an agreement between the parties will enable the different communities to live together in peace.
There has been a second, more common delusion: that somehow we should have gone in halfway. We might, say, help one side with our aircraft and bombs while they fight it out on the ground. I know of no Government whose military experts think that the use of air power could swing the balance of advantage in the mountains of Bosnia. Equally, if the arms embargo were lifted, the fighting would at least continue and, most of us now think, escalate.
Having waded thus deep halfway into the current, we would then face a choice of plunging headlong onwards, or retreating to the bank, as those whom we have begun 584 to favour were swept away. At the beginning, half-measures often seem risk-free and a practical alternative, but the half-measures that I have mentioned, which have been advocated quite often in the House and outside, are neither practical nor risk-free.
§ Mr. Winnick
I should like to refer the Foreign Secretary to his response to me last Wednesday in column 332 of Hansard during answers to a private notice question. I had asked about safe areas. He said, in effect, that events had moved on. In view of the outrage, which he has already mentioned today, perpetrated by the Serbians against civilians in the capital of Bosnia, what is the purpose of designated safe areas if no action is taken to try to ensure that the Serbs do not take military action causing the deaths of so many innocent people? Perhaps he will respond to that.
§ Mr. Hurd
Anyone who has gone to Sarajevo in recent months knows what the purpose is. It has not been fully achieved, and the hon. Gentleman is right in his comment on what has just occurred, but Sarajevo has changed substantially. It is no longer a place where thousands and thousands of shells rain on it every week—it used to be. That is only a partial achievement, but it has been reached because the UN has been there and has been active. The hon. Gentleman's point, which I understand, and my answer illustrate precisely where we are.
If by some quick, surgical, in-out strike, we could collectively have brought all the suffering to an end, I do not doubt that we would have done so, but at no time in the course of all the bloody unravelling of Yugoslavia has a proposal to that effect been suggested which on examination made any sense.
Of course—I concede this to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen)—we in these islands have no close interest in the detail of a further Bosnian constitution or in the precise relationship between a Croatian Government in Zagreb and its Serb minority, but we do—I hope that my hon. Friend and those who think like him, who are quite numerous, will agree—have an interest in stopping a war spreading across the map of Europe, particularly, as I have said, a war that would range the United States and Russia on different sides. Most of our constituents want in addition that we should play our part in saving lives and relieving hunger. Those are the two main objectives. The fact that we cannot do everything is not an argument for doing nothing.
§ Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)
The Foreign Secretary has mentioned the UN mission, which is to protect safe areas and to save lives. Will he comment on newspaper reports that the UN commander in Bosnia requested air strikes to protect the safe area in Sarajevo from further shelling, and that that was overruled by the UN at a political level? Is it right that the judgment of the UN commander on the ground should be overruled in that way?
§ Mr. Hurd
There are several UN commanders, and there is a UN chain of command. That chain of command decided yesterday not to ask the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to respond to the attack on Butmir. It is for the force commanders on the ground to recommend the action that they consider right in the circumstances. UN forces should maintain their credibility, and we support proportionate responses to violations of UN Security 585 Council resolutions. On occasion, that may call for robust action, including use of our air power, but that must be done with the approval of the UN chain of command.
We were caught between what might be called the unpalatable and the impracticable. We have sought to do three things. First, we have tried to contain the fighting. With the arms embargo, we aim to limit the fire instead of throwing on more oil. By sending UN forces to Macedonia—not British forces, but including American forces—we have deterred anyone tempted to make that country into a new battlefield.
Secondly, we have attempted—we have managed—to soften the war's effect on civilians. Tens of thousands of men and women from Britain and elsewhere—military and civilian personnel—are working in Croatia and Bosnia to save lives and alleviate suffering.
Thirdly, we have tried to create the conditions for peace. That involves soldiers on the ground mediating local disputes, brokering local ceasefires. It involves the diplomatic effort, slowly coaxing the parties by persuasion or pressure towards a settlement. That goes on all the time. Those people encourage the parties to see that war does not offer them or anyone a satisfactory answer, and they offer them a basis for peaceful negotiation.
As I said last week, none of that may seem dramatic. It does not lend itself to the rhetoric that goes with more violent action, but Bosnia has suffered too much from rhetoric and trumpet-blowing from afar. We have got on with the job that we believed we could realistically do. That is an honourable task for our forces, our aid workers and for our diplomats.
Thirteen of our troops, as well as two British aid workers, have been tragically killed in the course of that task. We work alongside others. The French have lost 35 dead; the Spaniards 14. Conspicuous individual contributions have been made, and I salute and congratulate the British officers and men whose awards for gallantry have been announced today.
So far, we have not succeeded in our peace-building efforts. If one can put it this way, the spider, despite repeated efforts, has not yet reached the ledge, but as Robert Bruce found, that is not a reason for no longer trying.
We have averted a wider war, and in large parts of Bosnia and Croatia we have brought a measure of peace and comfort to millions of people, mainly through the core of protective support for humanitarian assistance provided by UNPROFOR. The Sarajevo airlift, for example, has been a crucial lifeline.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
Having seen for myself much of what has been achieved in Bosnia, I agree with all that the Foreign Secretary has said about UNPROFOR. He must surely acknowledge, however, that something is very wrong with the UN chain of command of which he has spoken, when General Rupert Smith, the UN commander in Bosnia, calls for an appropriate and proportionate response to deal with aggression against people in the protected areas, and that is overruled by political decisions.
§ Mr. Hurd
I have given our position on that; my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence may want to add his own knowledge when he winds up the debate. Of course, there is a UN chain of command, 586 which—as the hon. Gentleman knows—is partly military and partly civilian. Any decision about air strikes must be approved by the chain of command: that is what the "dual key" is about. It is not possible for NATO or individual Governments to go against that. The conclusion reached yesterday was the conclusion that I have reported to the House.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
The Foreign Secretary is aware of the widespread anxiety about UN operations as a whole. Is the root of the problem really the UN's shortage of money? Is that really the fundamental problem?
§ Mr. Hurd
No, the problem is not shortage of money. I shall sum up what I consider to be the fundamental problem, in a way that I hope the hon. Gentleman will find acceptable and relevant.
Two specific gains over the past year have not been fully remarked. Just over a year ago, the leaders of the Muslim and Croat communities in Bosnia agreed in Washington to halt their fighting and build a federation—on which American diplomacy is to be congratulated. Since then, most of central Bosnia—most of the area where our troops are—has been at peace. That is still a tenuous achievement; in Mostar, for instance, where there has been a huge amount of destruction, efforts at reconstruction are hampered by distrust between Muslims and Croats. Nevertheless, by signing that agreement, the two factions ended some of the most savage incidents and disasters of the war.
A second important move has been the rupture between the Bosnian Serbs and Belgrade. Last summer, President Milosevic decided to accept the contact group plan, and to seal the border with the Serbs in Bosnia until they did the same. I do not suppose that he acted out of sudden remorse for his earlier part in the crisis. The isolation of Mr. Karadzic and his followers over the past nine months has not itself brought peace, and some traffic over the border continues; but by and large, according to international reports that we have received and our own information, the border is closed, and that remains a real advance.
Ten days ago, I would have added a third success—the economic agreement and ceasefire brokered in Croatia last year. That has not been destroyed, but it is in jeopardy; I hope that it can be revived. The agreement was largely the work of Lord Owen, who has played an indispensable and—I must say—usually thankless part in the progress that has been made.
Our own military, humanitarian and political contribution has matched that of any other country. I want to update the figures, to dispel the idea that our troops or our aid workers are simply sitting there doing nothing, while being exposed to constant humiliation.
Today, we have 3,400 men and women in the British armed forces serving with UNPROFOR, and a further 3,000 serve in the wider Adriatic theatre. The Royal Welch Fusiliers are helping to protect the people in the isolated enclave of Gorazde. In central Bosnia, the Royal Highland Fusiliers are handing over to the Devonshire and Dorset regiment the task of cementing the fragile peace that I have described. The RAF has been flying the airlift to Sarajevo since it began in July 1992.
Much of the work is not headline, but low-key. Our troops patrol the confrontation lines. They help to build confidence between the opposing parties, man observation 587 posts, broker local agreements and liaise between the factions. British forces have helped to repair roads, schools and houses, often while off duty. They have helped to reconnect electricity, water and gas supplies for thousands of people. New bridges have been built, hundreds of miles of aid routes kept open, and 1,500 mines cleared from 68 minefields. Our troops have escorted nearly 4,500 convoys, carrying 250,000 tonnes of aid, and the RAF has flown 24,000 tonnes into Sarajevo.
On the civilian side, Overseas Development Administration trucks and drivers are the backbone of the UNHCR fleet. They have run nearly 2,000 convoys with 150,000 tonnes of aid. The ODA has flown some 450 aid flights to Sarajevo with 15,000 tonnes of aid: that is nearly 40 per cent. of all aid flights to Sarajevo in the past year.
Other ODA programmes cover engineering, telecommunications and medical support; 20,000 refugees in central Bosnia have been given winter shelter. We are the third largest donor of humanitarian aid, after the Americans and Japan. The UNHCR acknowledges that the ODA is pre-eminent on the ground in Bosnia.
§ Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
Given the contribution made by the ODA and other British civilian personnel, will the Foreign Secretary give us an idea of the implications for that contribution of any withdrawal of the military contribution?
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall try to do so shortly.
I listed those contributions because they are not always remembered, and I feel that those concerned—and all of us—can be proud of them. They make a real difference to the lives of the victims of war. I readily accept, however, that that is not enough: it is softening the problem, but not solving it. The flare-up of fighting in western Slavonia last week, and the intransigence of the Bosnian Serbs, show the limits to what can be done if the parties themselves are unwilling to co-operate.
We have said before that UNPROFOR can remain only for as long as its task are practicable and the level of risk manageable, but how do we measure that? That is the question that interests many hon. Members who are in the middle of the argument. We must plan for the possibility that we shall have to withdraw; certainly our presence should not be taken for granted.
The UN is not there as a permanent armed relief operation. It went for an humanitarian purpose, and its most important work now is to help the political process. That, however, requires the parties to make certain choices as well. The UN cannot just stay in the Balkans for ever to pick up the bits and save people from the consequences of their own actions.
There is an urgent need, and a longer need. The urgent need is clearly for another stop to the fighting. As I have reported, there is a new ceasefire in Croatia, and we expect both sides to respect it. In Bosnia, we need to renew the cessation of hostilities that expired last week. Those are not ends in themselves, but they are preconditions for progress towards a lasting settlement.
What should be the form of that settlement? We cannot impose it, but the blueprints that have been suggested for it exist. The parties know them well, as do those who have followed them in the House. In Croatia, we favour the reintegration, under Croatian sovereignty, of the 588 Serb-controlled areas, with autonomy for areas where the Serbs constitute a majority. In Bosnia, we have suggested a loose union of the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb regions. The Bosnian Serbs would need to return much of the land that they now occupy.
§ Mr. Hurd
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman once. I suspect that he may be trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The contact group is working hard to secure mutual recognition between Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro. That mutual recognition could transform the prospects for peace. The Bosnian Government endorsed that idea, and if President Milosevic were to do the same—which is not impossible—he would be entitled to further relief of sanctions. Those are the ideas that we put forward—when I saw "we", I mean unanimously, in the contact group. But there is only so much that we outsiders can do. We can point the parties towards the negotiating table, but only they can decide when to sit down and talk seriously about peace.
I return finally to the question of British troops, which is in the forefront of the minds of most right hon. and hon. Members.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
Before my right hon. Friend moves on to that important aspect, will he reiterate that when—I will not say "if'—a peace settlement is achieved, it will be internationally guaranteed, with all that that implies?
§ Mr. Hurd
Yes. Clearly that is necessary. As my hon. Friend knows, there are plans to make that effective in practice.
As to the presence of British troops. I understand the concerns in this House about British troops being involved in a long-drawn-out, inconclusive and risky operation. I understand also why some right hon. and hon. Members want to draw a line. The House should not delude itself about the consequences of the withdrawal of UNPROFOR. I say "the withdrawal of UNPROFOR", because I do not think it would be conceivable for British troops to withdraw alone, leaving in the lurch the contingents alongside whom our soldiers work—such as the New Zealanders, French and Spanish—and whose lines of communication they protect.
NATO plans for withdrawal are being finalised. It would be a difficult operation and could result in a flare-up of the war in Bosnia, greatly increased suffering and atrocities, and perhaps a spilling over of the war into other parts of the Balkans. The dangers and miseries of that need no description. But there are circumstances, as we have made clear to all concerned, in which we would have to withdraw. If the arms embargo were lifted and arms flooded into the area, we and most other troops contributors would judge that the time had come when the UN could no longer fulfil a worthwhile mission as peacekeeper. That is one possibility.
If, even with the arms embargo, the fighting flared up because the generals on either side mistakenly thought that they could achieve military victory, in those circumstances, too, the risks to our troops might outweigh the good they could do. There is a third possibility. If, month in month out, there was no sign of an effective peace process, and if it became clear that the parties were 589 simply exploiting the presence of the UN force to advance their military position, then, too, the troop contributors might decide that their presence was no longer contributing to peace.
We constantly review that judgment month after month, as we must, and as others do. By "we", I mean the British Government. It is a difficult judgment, and I do not think that this is the last time that the House will have to debate such a choice. Such choices may well be the pattern for the future. The nature of foreign policy has changed. Few choices are now absolute between good and evil. There is no longer that which President Reagan called an evil empire. There is no longer the likelihood of a world war. In my judgment, although this is more controversial, we are not likely often to see one sovereign state invading another, as Iraq invaded Kuwait.
We see something different in Bosnia, Somalia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Cambodia, Angola and Nagorno Karabakh—something to which the House is getting used, but with which it is finding it extraordinarily difficult to deal. We see relatively new-born states without natural frontiers. There are frontiers drawn on the map as a result of history. Frontiers are needed in a world of nation states, in which we shall go on living.
Few people seriously argue in most of those cases that the problem can be solved by shunting frontiers a few miles east, west, north or south. There is no magic in redrawing maps in any of those cases. Within each of those states, there are divisions, whether ethnic or ideological. They are usually divisions deepened by recent or ancient atrocities and by distortions of history.
Faced with the suffering that results, and about which many of our constituents feel strongly, some people and organisations in this country, and some non-governmental organisations, are beginning to argue for an international system based on the imperial principle of the international community imposing from outside a particular solution and form of government—as we did with the slave trade, for example. Others try to over-simplify the truth. It is much easier to make choices if one believes that there is nothing but virtue on one side and nothing but vice on the other. But making the choice easier by creating heroes and villains, when in fact the responsibility is shared, does not produce the right answer.
There will certainly be many places and many cases where we in Britain feel that we cannot help. We cannot be everywhere and try to play a part in everything. But there will be cases, such as Cyprus, Rwanda—where we went in and came out, and did a good job—and now Angola, where the British Government judge that it is in our interest to contribute with others to an international effort. I greatly welcome the professionalism and enthusiasm of our armed forces for that kind of task.
Individual judgments will be difficult. Our contribution needs to be clearly thought through and defined, but a crucially important point when debating foreign policy, in respect of Bosnia or elsewhere, is that it is a British interest to make from time to time, as in Bosnia, a specific and considered contribution to a more stable and less savage world.
§ 5.6 pm
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)
Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are united in grave concern at the deteriorating conflict throughout the former 590 Yugoslavia. Yesterday the House did not sit as a mark of respect for the 50th anniversary of peace in Europe. That gives added point to finding ourselves debating today the outbreak of war in one part of Europe. We have seen in Bosnia and Croatia, as so often before, that civilians pay the price for the willingness of their politicians to maintain war. Both sides of the House deplore civilian casualties—whether it involves Serb civilians fleeing from Croat soldiers, Croat civilians being hit by rockets in Zagreb, or Muslim civilians being hit by the mortar shells that fell on Sarajevo and Tuzla over the weekend.
Also of concern to the House is that a principal victim of the renewed fighting of the past week has been the United Nations and its mandate in the former Yugoslavia. It is only one week since the ceasefire formally came to an end. In that time, UN mandates have been comprehensively breached. The no-fly zone over the whole of Bosnia was breached when planes flew over Bihac. The heavy weapons exclusion zone around Sarajevo is allegedly being breached at present by heavy mortars in the hills around the city and by the alleged presence of two tanks within the exclusion zone.
The UN mandate for safe havens has plainly been broken time and again in the last seven days—most recently this weekend, with the shelling of Tuzla. The UN agreement for the opening of Sarajevo airport has been broken by the inability to fly planes in and out of that airport with safety. As someone who has flown out of Sarajevo, the Foreign Secretary will agree that it is not an airport in the sense that most right hon. and hon. Members would recognise. The terminal is a portakabin without windows. Nevertheless, that rudimentary structure provided a vital link between Sarajevo and the outside world, which has now been severed again. The UN-protected areas in Croatia have been violated by the Croatian Government, who sent a substantial military force to storm across the UN line around one protected area.
I find it disturbing that none of those challenges to the UN mandate has been met with a UN response. It is only too clear that some parties to the conflict have used the last four months of ceasefire to apply the three Rs of regrouping, refunding and rearming. The question is, what has the UN been doing during those four months? What has it done to prepare the safe haven for the likely resumption of hostilities? What has been done to try to achieve the best of all outcomes for the safe havens—demilitarisation—so that they do not provide legitimate military targets within the UN areas?
What makes it perhaps most surprising that we find ourselves caught unawares by the resumption of hostilities is that the breakdown of the ceasefire should itself be a surprise. I visited Bosnia in the first week of January. After bumping around in a Land Rover for three days across the tracks in Bosnia, I can tell the House that I am not surprised that it is easy to get a ceasefire in Bosnia around the middle of winter. The temperature there is below 5 deg C; there is frequent snow; visibility is very poor. Those are not the conditions for fighting an infantry war, which is why there is normally a reduction in military activity in winter. The test of any ceasefire was bound to come in the spring.
I do not believe that the cessation of hostilities need be a surprise, given the positions of the two major participants. The Bosnian Government made it perfectly clear to me when I visited them that they had no intention 591 of extending the ceasefire if there were no agreement on the contact group peace plan by the time that the ceasefire came to an end. That position is understandable.
We have to understand that the Bosnian Government do not want the present confrontation line to become frozen into a permanent division of Bosnia. The ghost that haunts Bosnia is the green line of Cyprus, where for 20 years a partition has been drawn along where a ceasefire line was negotiated. Equally, on the other side, the leadership of the Bosnian Serbs plainly had no intention of giving up the territory that was required if they were to agree to the contact group peace plan, nor had they any intention of honouring the terms of a ceasefire in which they were moving spirits.
Article 7 of the ceasefire that they signed at the end of December explicitly states:The parties agree to assist fully in the total restoration of utilities and the establishment of joint economic activities aimed at the normalization of life in all territories, and in particular, in and around the Safe Areas.If that meant anything, it must have meant opening up access to Sarajevo and lifting the siege.
Far from honouring that article, the Serbs have tightened the noose around Sarajevo, which now has less contact with the outside world than it had before the ceasefire. Radovan Karadzic, who may have prime responsibility for initiating the ceasefire, also has to accept prime responsibility for sabotaging it. Given that that breakdown of the ceasefire was predictable—and, indeed, predicted—I find it puzzling that there has been no response to the repeated violations of the UN mandate that have followed in the wake of the collapse of the ceasefire.
The Foreign Secretary said that the Government and the UN would support a proportionate response to violations of the UN mandate. I understand that, and I fully share that view. We have to ask the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence why there has been no response, because, at present, the reaction of UN and UNPROFOR forces does not appear to be proportionate to the events of the past week.
I fully agree with what the Foreign Secretary said about our inability to impose a solution by military intervention. The big problem with imposing a solution by military intervention is not whether we could successfully carry it out but how long we would have to stay to make the political settlement stick and how we would get out after imposing a political settlement that nobody wanted until the military arrived.
I also agree with the Foreign Secretary that there are severe limitations on air power. It is a low-intensity ground war that cannot be won from the air alone. It is difficult terrain with successive mountain ranges which give only short spans over which a target is visible. It is not, as some Americans sometimes appear to imagine, the easy desert terrain in which Operation Desert Storm was waged from the air.
Nevertheless, I still take the view that the UN could have been more robust in the use of limited air power in response to local violations. I continue to take that view despite an extremely aggressive encounter with General Sir Michael Rose in Sarajevo in which, I might say, he carpet bombed me, because I had maintained that view in 592 an article before I went there. If he had been as robust with the Serbs as he was with me, I would feel more content with his record in Bosnia.
The last time that air power was used by the United Nations was six months ago in Banja Luka, in retaliation for the bombing of Bihac. The bombs were not dropped on the airport buildings, or on the planes that carried out the Bihac bombing, but on the runway, which was operational again in 48 hours. Its operational capability was demonstrated only a fortnight ago when planes using the same runway again bombed Bihac. There has been no use of air power since.
Last month, at Question Time, I referred the Foreign Secretary to the statement by Colum Murphy, an UNPROFOR spokesman in Sarajevo, who said on 28 March:Attacks that come from the outside and deliberately target civilians will meet a determined response, including the use of air power".Since that statement was made, such attacks targeting civilians have happened in Bihac, Sarajevo and again this weekend in Tuzla, all three of which are UN safe areas. We understand from exchanges earlier that General Rupert Smith asked for a response to the attack on one of those safe areas. That request was refused by people higher up the UN's civilian chain of command. Why make a threat if we are not prepared to carry it out?
The next time that we make such a threat, what possible reason would there be for the Serbs, or anyone else, to listen to that threat? Every time that our bluff is called in the former Yugoslavia, the UN loses part of its authority. A major casualty of the events of the past week has been a further loss in the little authority that the UN has left. That will have repercussions well beyond Bosnia.
§ Mr. Winnick
I fully support my hon. Friend. Does he agree, that every time that the Serbs take military action, such as the atrocity over the weekend, and no military response is made to safeguard the safe areas, the Serb military commanders will believe that they can get away with it? As a result, such actions have been taken time and again, as my hon. Friend said. Should it not be made clear to the Serbians that such atrocities against safe areas will definitely result in a military response? If it is not made clear, then, as the Foreign Secretary said last Wednesday, they will have no need to worry and can continue to tease and taunt the international community.
§ Mr. Cook
I would have preferred it not to become known that General Rupert Smith had requested the use of air power. Unfortunately, the whole world, including the Bosnian Serbs, knows that he requested it and was overruled. What signal does that send to those with whom he will have to negotiate in future? It is the first law of negotiations that one backs up the person sent to carry out the negotiations. What loss of authority is involved for General Rupert Smith the next time that he issues an instruction to those with whom he is dealing?
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) I must say that, next time, a threat will not do. I doubt whether such a threat will be taken seriously until one is implemented.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, until Mr. Akashi is removed, there will be little credibility for the UN operation in Bosnia?
§ Mr. Cook
I would not wish to personalise a profound issue that involves a number of different institutions. One of the key issues is that there is some tension between the military presence in Bosnia and UN civilian presence. One of the lessons of the Bosnian experience is that we must look closely at how they relate to each other and where the command chain rests in any future operation. Unless the operation in Bosnia is a success, it is difficult to see how any operation will be launched by the UN in similar circumstances in the future.
Last Wednesday, one or two Back-Bench Conservative Members demanded immediate withdrawal and put forward a position of extreme isolationism. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said that we had no strategic interest in the former Yugoslavia. I think that Britain has a profound strategic interest in the future authority of the UN. We are, after all, a permanent member of the Security Council. We cannot claim continuing membership of the Security Council unless we recognise the authority of the UN as one of our strategic interests.
I believe that we make an error if we think that we can escape by leaving the peoples of the Balkans to stew in their own troubled waters. The history of the Balkans shows that troubles there have a capacity to boil over into the rest of Europe. If the conflict escalates, it will have wider repercussions in which we may well have a strategic interest. It will complicate our relationship with Russia if it feels obliged to intervene on the Serbian side. It could potentially reopen the conflict between Turkey and Greece with profound consequences for our negotiations with Cyprus.
Perhaps most fundamentally, it will gravely complicate what may be one of the most important foreign policy issues of the turn of the century, which is the relationship of Europe to the world of Islam, which will not take easily to indifference on the part of Europe to the fate of the largest Muslim population within Europe.
We are not in Bosnia out of altruism—we have wider strategic objectives in preventing the spread of that conflict. However, we should not forget that one of the reasons for being there is that our constituents saw the victims of war on television and responded with a considerable sense of solidarity and sympathy to what they saw.
Those who oppose a continuing presence in Bosnia should not seek to identify their view with the views of the troops on the ground. I have had the opportunity to visit them and I should like to record my appreciation of the help that I obtained from the Foreign Office and the British forces to enable me to do so. It is important that the House recognises the courage with which our troops have discharged the duty that the House has laid upon them. We should not forget that some of those we sent there have paid the supreme sacrifice.
Most of our troops in Bosnia are living in exceptionally primitive conditions. Throughout the winter in Gorazde there was no electric light despite the fact that daylight lasted for only a few hours. Yet, on the bases I visited, morale appeared high. One could witness the strong satisfaction of people who believed that they were doing 594 a valuable job and were dedicated to doing it. However, we all have to have some caution as to how we interpret morale on an overnight stop.
When the company sergeant major marches one round the back of the barracks and bellows, "MacPherson, are you happy with your living quarters?" and MacPherson says, "Yes sir", one knows not to take that reply at full face value. However, the impression was that there was good morale and the sense of a rewarding job being done with commitment. That sense of satisfaction comes from the troops knowing rather better than some of the media over here what they had achieved. It is worth repeating that.
Over the past two winters, our troops have helped to provide food and fuel to over 2 million civilians of all three different ethnic groups in Bosnia. Over the past year, they have restored gas, electricity and water to communities that had lost those essential utilities. In Vitez the British troops have reopened the schools so that the children can return to education. Most important of all, the British troops in central Bosnia have played a key role in helping to negotiate and enforce the ceasefire between the Croat and Muslim populations who were previously engaged in a conflict which probably killed more people than the war between the Serbs and the Muslim population. No officer I met during my time there wanted to put an end to the work that they were doing.
Of course, if the commanders on the ground come back with an assessment that the deteriorating situation means that their men face unacceptable risks, they must be withdrawn. I hope that those would be the only circumstances in which the British presence would be withdrawn. I support the Foreign Secretary in his view that our presence in Bosnia is worth while, and that we should continue to be there.
As politicians, we have the right to ask our troops to remain only if we are doing everything possible to achieve a settlement. What can be done to make a settlement of the dispute more likely? I want to outline three priorities which should guide our activities in the immediate future. The first priority must be to restore the authority of the UN.
I should like to record some anxiety about our attitude to our troops in Gorazde. As I understand it, we have said that we will not renew our presence there after September as there is no fuel to run the vehicles because the Serbs will not allow fuel through to the troops in the safe area. If the troops have no fuel, there is no alternative to them withdrawing. However, with all the logistical capacity available to us, is there no way that fuel could be got to Gorazde? If we withdraw in the face of that pressure, what message does it send to the Serbs who will be able to believe that they can treat with impunity the claims of the military and that the UN will leave the safe areas? Which safe area will then find the noose tightening next time round?
The second priority must be to maintain pressure on the leaders of the two countries on either side of Bosnia who orchestrate much of the activity of the Serb and Croat populations within Bosnia. I hope that there will be no step to reduce sanctions on Serbia until Mr. Milosevic has at least recognised Bosnia and accepts full closure of his border with the Bosnian Serbs. To do anything that would relax sanctions until we achieve that outcome can only encourage the Bosnian Serbs to believe that, in the fullness of time, the world will come to live with the present distribution of territory inside Bosnia.
595 I know, because the Foreign Secretary has written to me, that he met President Tudjman during the VE day celebrations, and that President Tudjman gave him an assurance that there would be no further military action inside Croatia. I must ask the Foreign Secretary a question: did not Croatia give similar assurances during the negotiations of the trade agreement from which it got association status with the EC?
§ Mr. Cook
I welcome that intervention, and I support the Foreign Secretary entirely in his view that there could be no decision by the European Union to grant association status to Croatia until we are satisfied that Croatia is prepared to recognise the authority of the United Nations, and will not seek, by military power, to overturn UN mandates.
I wish to spend rather more time on my third priority because it is the most profound of the three. The time may have come to reconsider the cartographic diplomacy that has marked our approach to Bosnia. The history of the past three years is studded with various different maps of Bosnia—the Vance-Owen plan, the Owen-Stoltenberg plan and the contact group peace plan. They all have in common the feature of approaching diplomacy on the basis of drawing lines on a map.
There are dangers with that approach. One danger is that one can legitimise the gains made by military conquest. One may even provide an incentive to military aggression by having made plain where one would tolerate the line being drawn on the map. The worst problem of that approach is that it accepts that the basic difficulty in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia is a deep ethnic hostility, which can be separated only by a demarcation line in order to resolve the tensions on either side of it.
There is certainly ethnic hostility in Bosnia, which has been exploited by the leaders of former Yugoslavia. President Milosevic must accept the major responsibility for the tragedy of the past three years in that he has whipped up Serbian nationalism. While he has recognised in the past year the price that his economy is paying for the sanctions on his country, he has now found that he can longer control the puppets whom he helped to power in Bosnia and Krajina. He is not the first politician to discover that it is easier to release the force of nationalism than to bring it back under control.
Tudjman also must accept substantial, if lesser, blame. He was elected with the slogan, "Croatia for Croats", and wrote a constitution which states that the Croat state is an expression of the Croat people. That leaves little room for the rights of minorities, or for an accommodation with the substantial Serbian minority in Krajina.
The real problem which we have in trying to secure a reconciliation in the Balkans is that the two principle leaders have obtained and retained power through ethnic confrontation. It is therefore hard to see how they could survive the compromise necessary for a permanent agreement to be reached. The rest of Europe must ask 596 whether we should accept that the only way to settle this issue is on the terms of those leaders which require us to impose apartheid on nationalist lines.
The ethnic differences are slight, and are not based on race or even language. They are based only on religion, but the Muslims in Bosnia are the least fundamentalist of any in the Islamic world. Indeed, I have heard it alleged that they are the Anglicans of the Islamic world. In recent history there has been a high degree of integration of the ethnic communities. One quarter of all post-war marriages in former Yugoslavia were mixed, and the schools were integrated before the war. Children from all ethnic communities went to school together in a way which they do not in Northern Ireland, or even in Scotland.
There may have been greater divisions in rural areas than in cities, but the tragedy of Sarajevo is that it was as cosmopolitan a city as any in Europe, and it possibly had a greater tradition of tolerance of religious diversity than most cities in Europe.
I ask those who argue that the only realistic settlement is to separate the ethnic communities whether they have really taken on board how unrealistic it would be to achieve that in practice. The ethnic communities live in alternating villages, and often in the same village. In Vitez, the confrontation lines between Croat and Muslim are only 10 yards apart across the same street. I submit that the only realistic permanent solution for the peoples of former Yugoslavia is for them to learn to live together with tolerance and mutual respect for each other's human rights.
If we are to try to contribute towards that, we must support the citizen groups and civic forums which are bringing together different ethnic groups, as well as negotiating with the political leaders. We must support communities such as Tuzla, which still has a multi-ethnic sector administration. Most of all, we must encourage and insist upon a free media. The power base of both Milosevic and Tudjman is that they both have total control over television, which has 90 per cent. penetration throughout the countries. That gives them a more powerful weapon than tanks and heavy artillery.
President Tudjman assured the Foreign Secretary that the action in western Slavonia was a limited action which would not be repeated. I understand that the liberation of that area has been reported on television throughout Croatia in terms of rejoicing, and that there has been no suggestion that this was a limited action which would not be repeated.
The UN special rapporteur suggested two years ago that one objective of the UN should be to fund a free and independent information agency. I suggest that one practical step which might have a significant impact on the politics of the Balkans is for the international community to consider sponsoring a television station to provide an alternative to Government propaganda and an antidote to the repeated poison of nationalist hatred.
There is certainly an adequate supply of Serbo-Croat journalists who would be willing recruits for a free media. Given the enormous investment which we have made in the military presence and humanitarian relief, it is perhaps strange that we have not yet put more modest resources into a vehicle to help provide the change of opinion which will be necessary to achieve a political settlement. The UN will always be responding to the actions of other players rather than setting its own agenda for development 597 if we focus solely on the military war and ignore entirely the propaganda war being waged by Governments on both sides.
The ultimate goal for Bosnia and the other nations of the former Yugoslavia must be an outcome which respects the territorial integrity of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia and which provides freedom of movement within each state. There must be a supervised high degree of autonomy within the states for the ethnic minorities of each of them, and the right for those ethnic minorities to have some form of association with the members of the same ethnic communities in other states. Any respectable permanent settlement must include the right of refugees to return to the places from which they were expelled.
We will make a mistake if we imagine that we can achieve that outcome solely through negotiation with the leaders of the countries, and without reconciliation between the communities on the ground. The peace and reconciliation in Europe which we celebrated this weekend was based on a major programme of civic education in Germany after the war, and I doubt whether there is much prospect of peace and reconciliation in the Balkans unless similar civic efforts to achieve the same reconciliation between the communities is made.
Finally, may I echo the closing point of the Foreign Secretary? He was absolutely right to say that, while the House debates the specific and particular problems of the former Yugoslavia, we should not regard them in isolation. The tragedy that we should recognise is that the problems of the troubled former Yugoslavia are only too representative of the new nature of the threat to the security of Europe and the world.
Conflicts between ethnic groups and civil war within states are now more frequent than war between states. In the past four years, the UN has recorded three wars between states, but has also recorded 79 conflicts within states. Dealing with the complexity and bitterness of a civil conflict is much more challenging than dealing with the simple morality required to denounce aggression between states. It is a challenge that we cannot avoid because it is now a more common threat to world peace.
It is vital to the people of Bosnia and Croatia that a solution is found that offers them the prospect of permanent peace. But let us not forget that it is just as important for all those other nations with a common intention that the UN mission is a success. All those nations are also potential losers if it should fail.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
As the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) reminded us, spring has come to the Balkans, and the killing has begun again. Before I look at some of the things which we in this country should do or stop doing with our allies and friends, I would like to make one or two background observations which have shaped my view about how to proceed from the grim present situation. Everyone who is returning from the Balkans at the moment speaks of the way in which the spirit of hatred, and the spirit of war which follows that intense hatred and the yearning for revenge, has worked itself up to new heights.
The chilling remarks that Mr. Karadzic made when he visited some of us in the House a few years ago, which were broadly to the effect that the choice was kill or be 598 killed, seem to have penetrated ever wider circles. Clearly, the atmosphere is such that we are as far as we ever were, if not further, from the necessary conditions for peace.
Even to begin starting the engines of reconciliation, about which the hon. Member for Livingston spoke with some eloquence, is a vast task. Obviously, it is one that we have to work at, but it leads me to the first pessimistic conclusion of my comments. Given that no will exists among the outside powers for decisive intervention, which is hard to define anyway, to halt the machinations of the extremists in Serbia, Bosnian Serbia, other parts of Bosnia, Croatia or wherever, we have to be reconciled to the fact that it could take many years to wind down the spiral of hatred and change the mood that is working itself up even now.
Once that mood and that type of war have seized hold—other such wars have lasted a decade or more in the post-war period—there could be years of the sort of spring killing that we are witnessing now. Unless we are prepared to recognise that it could be a very long process, we will waste a lot of energy. I am afraid that there will be a lot of rhetoric—trying to find solutions just around the corner which are not there.
The second general point is that we are suffering from static reporting in the media of a dynamic situation. We are looking at a different set of motives and alliances than those that existed a year or two ago. An alliance is developing between the Zagreb and Bosnian Croatians and the so-called Bosnian Muslims, who are not really Muslims at all. That is a misnomer that we go on using. As we know, there are Serbs and Croats in the Government of Bosnia.
As the hon. Member for Livingston rightly said, the scene is a mishmash of different groups, who bear little or no relationship to distinct groups of Serbs or Croats and certainly not to the Muslims. No such clear distinctions exist. There has been a constant tendency to depict the battle and the bloodshed in terms of those separate groups, when the only sensible separation is between those who lived in peace for years and those who wanted to stir up extremism and impose violently a completely different order for other ends. We should not be deceived by the propaganda to the effect that this has always been an area of conflict. There have been wars, but these people have lived in peace for years, in the same villages and families.
The reporting has been poor at bringing home to us the vast complexities of the situation. I disagree totally with those hon. Members, including, I am afraid, some of my right hon. Friends, who have referred to the conflict as a civil war. No description of what is going on in the area could be more misleading.
In some senses, the conflict has civil war elements, but it is a war of intentions and motives, many of which were definitely initiated in Belgrade, with the ambitions of Mr. Milosevic and his team, as they moved into positions of power. We know now that he fears that he has unleashed forces that he cannot control. He writes letters to Mr. Karadzic pleading that the future of Yugoslavia should be decided not by Mr. Karadzic but by acceptance of the contact group's peace proposals. It is too late. He should have thought about that when he started.
The reporting and depicting of what is going on has been bad, which makes it difficult for us to decide what to do. The immediate matter, however, is the role of troops in general and of our marvellous troops in 599 particular, which rightly concerns the House from day to day. What should they do? Like the whole House and many of our electors, I have always wanted them to fulfil some humanitarian role. Increasingly, it is a task to which modern, organised military cadres are being put. They have to move in, in a way that no other forces can, deliver humanitarian help, food and medicine and connect up electrical and water systems. Our troops have done that job superbly and, as long as it is possible for them to do it, I hope that they will continue.
Also, if protected areas exist, it has always seemed a reasonable aim—if it can be delivered and I am not sure that it can—that they should somehow remain protected and that, where civilians think that they can walk around without being slaughtered or shot down, our military forces and those of other countries should do their best to preserve those conditions. It is not succeeding.
Who among us was not shocked the other day at seeing a Serbian sniper's cold-blooded assassination of an old lady as she got out of a minibus? She was shot down in front of the cameras and the telephoto lens. That is monstrous evidence that no areas are adequately protected, despite our wish that they should be. We heard about the difficulties at the weekend and we want some effective action—difficult though that is—in response to local violations of those protected areas.
Peacekeeping is another phrase that has crept into our discussions of the role of our troops. What sort of "peace" do my right hon. Friends think is being kept? From the Croatian point of view, although they are certainly not all virtue and goodness, they are being asked to keep a peace in which a large chunk of Croatia is seized territory, another is under Serbian control and another is occupied by Croatian Serbs, who for years were ready to live in a sort of autonomy. Perhaps President Tudjman provoked them and reduced their rights—I am not sure of the facts of that development—but they were prepared to live in Croatia as Serbs.
From the early days, when Vukovar was smashed, Serbian and the former Yugoslav federal forces seized chunks of Croatia. Would we want a peace in which that arrangement was left in place? However much the local people wanted autonomy and different cultures, if they were part of our land, we would want them to remain that way and not be declared as having questionable status, or be under another country as part of this "peace".
The "peace" also apparently means the partition of Bosnia, which from the point of view of the Bosnian Government must seem an intolerable peace to have to accept. As the hon. Member for Livingston reminded us, it makes no sense when one considers how people have lived for hundreds of years in those parts of the world, or of how they are going to live. However many lines are drawn on a map, whether or not the contact group's latest plan is accepted, and even after ethnic cleansing, there will be areas in which different groups are hopelessly intertwined—living in the same village or street, marrying each other and living in the same family.
I do not think that we would accept that sort of peace. It is not acceptable and, given that our troops are not being made part of a massive offensive force—no one is suggesting that—it is not right to impose on them the role of keeping that sort of peace.
600 I am no longer sure that the arguments put forward by my right hon. Friend and his opposite numbers in the European capitals for maintaining the arms embargo are still as convincing as they were. In practice, the arms embargo has long since been broken and heavy weapons are now available to the Bosnian troops. The only reason why they do not demand that the embargo be lifted now is that they believe that, if such an announcement were made, there would be an immediate Serbian-Bosnian onslaught, and they want to be ready for that.
The embargo is now irrelevant at best. It may even have been a mistake. The propositions put forward in an excellent new book, "A Short History of Bosnia" by Noel Malcolm, which I strongly recommend to the House, are extremely persuasive in that context. The embargo arguments were never strong and I am no longer convinced that the proposition that bloodshed would increase if it were removed is valid. Bloodshed is increasing anyway.
That is the gloomy and negative scene we face. Where do we turn for more effective solutions? Which key do we turn in which lock to check some of the bloodshed before it spreads further? I agree with my right hon. Friend that one of the keys is still in Belgrade. That is where the extremism began and where the power still lies to try to unravel the extremists' poison, which is destroying this multi-ethnic group of countries.
Belgrade could stop it. It could also stop the war with the Croatians in Krajina if it talked with Zagreb. Pressure must be maintained on Belgrade to keep the border blockades and stop fuelling the Bosnian-Serbs. It is not working at present. Although Milosevic says that he is maintaining the blockades, financing of the Bosnian-Serbs continues. They are receiving money and resources from Serbia, and that should stop.
Sanctions should continue to be applied. It should be explained to Milosevic that we are against not the Serbian nation but actions by the Serbian state, whether of omission or commission, which allow the Bosnian-Serbs to continue to fight, kill and hold on to territory.
The humanitarian role should continue and we should be careful about defining a peace which merely alarms the people who feel that they are losing by that kind of peace. We should certainly not designate our troops as part of that kind of peacekeeping. We must continue to put all our energies into the diplomatic process to try to get some of the seeds of the flower of reconciliation to grow. That is how we must work between Belgrade, Zagreb and the Bosnian Government in Sarajevo. It is not an enticing or positive menu, but it is better than trying to keep a peace that will not hold, claiming that we are doing things which we then cannot deliver, speaking loud words but not carrying the big stick to back them up, and promising that people will be protected but then failing to protect them. That is the shame.
Hon. Members sometimes ask why we bother at all. The hon. Member for Livingston was right to raise that question, as was my right hon. Friend with his usual eloquence. The answer must be given in general terms. First, this is a war generated in a potentially peaceful part of the world. Balkan wars have arisen from time to time but, generally, conflict has not been a mode of life for those peoples. It has almost been imposed on them from outside.
601 If violent extremism is victorious and we end up with partitioning, ethnic cleansing, bits of country carved out from other countries and a forcibly redrawn map, extremism will have won and that would be a loss for the rest of Europe. If we have not learnt that lesson from history, we have learnt nothing. Secondly, the conflict could spread rapidly to Vojvodina and Kosovo, where the extremist tendency promoted by Belgrade is ready to take a much firmer line that it has already.
My conclusion is that diplomacy must continue to do its best. The seeds of reconciliation must be planted, but it will take many years to get this right, given that we do not have the will to intervene decisively from outside. Our troops must not be asked to keep a peace that cannot hold and the position must be monitored at all times while they continue to do their brave and wonderful work.
§ Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South)
I shall not discuss the areas of former Yugoslavia which have been dealt with earnestly and honourably by the Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell). I associate myself with their many wise observations on the position in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. I draw the attention of the House to another potential flashpoint to the south, which will no doubt be discussed by less honourable and right hon. Members in the course of the debate: the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.
The importance of that flashpoint is that it is the one area of former Yugoslavia where the United States has deployed a small peacekeeping force. Hon. Members will be aware of Macedonia's internal problems: the substantial Albanian minority and other ethnic minorities, and human rights problems—an explosive cocktail indeed. Kosovo, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Guildford, abuts Macedonia. Fortunately, blood has not yet been shed in that part of former Yugoslavia, as it has in the north.
Attention may have been deflected from the danger in that area by the nature of the dispute between Macedonia and Greece, which is seen as being ostensibly over a name, although it amounts to more than that. A name is important as it gives an area an identity. I shall not indulge in a lecture on the ancient identity of the Macedonians and on Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, but the Greeks were historically correct in the campaign that they launched in the early days of the dispute. Understandably, detached outsiders say, "But that is ancient history, isn't it?"
Nor shall I engage in a lecture on the falsification of the history of Slavo-Macedonia since 1944, although that, too, has much hard factual content. I simply remind the House that Tito's renaming of Vardar Banovina as the Republic of Macedonia in 1944 was a political statement. More than that, it was a territorial claim. It laid claim to territory in Greece and in Bulgaria. Notably, the objective was the warm water port of Salonika on the Aegean.
The Greeks fought a bloody civil war on that issue between 1945 and 1949, when we were celebrating the peace that was commemorated as recently as yesterday. Clause 49 of the constitution of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia enshrines that claim and subsequent propaganda, especially by a political faction, the VMRO, has kept the claim alive ever since.
602 President Kiro Gligorov may argue that he cannot control the publications of political parties, but I believe that the adoption of the sunburst emblem of Vergina, recently discovered in Greek Macedonia on the coffin of Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, is a wilful act of authorisation of that claim. If hon. Members wish to empathise with the strength of feeling about that emblem, it is as though the thistle were stolen from the Scots and adopted by another country. It is an emblem, but it stirs up passions.
President Gligorov has mounted an impressive propaganda campaign about that, which has deflected attention from some of the more substantial issues in that earlier dispute and, in great measure, has succeeded in casting the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia in the guise of the little victim of the big bully, Greece.
More recently, that attention has been directed at the stories of hardship and privation arising from the limited blockade that Greece has enforced of exports through Greece into the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, but the very recent decision of the European Court, vindicating Greece's decision to impose that limited blockade, has at last directed attention at the substance. The European Court upheld Greece's contention that its national security was at stake, that there was a threat of war and that therefore, under the terms of its membership of the European Union, it was entitled to enforce that blockade.
It is a threat of war indeed, because that so-called little victim—the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia—has a box of matches and is playing with fire. There is a danger that wider warfare in former Yugoslavia will result. I am therefore pleased to note the success of the change of emphasis brought about by Greece's limited blockade on the former Yugoslav republic. It concentrates the attention of the major powers on what matters in the dispute between Greece and the former Yugoslav republic. The pity is that they have not yet persuaded Mr. Gligorov to concentrate on the issues.
Greece has no territorial dispute with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. It is almost unique in the Balkans in having no such territorial claims on any of its neighbours. Greece has demonstrated its desire to have policies of support and co-operation with its neighbours in that part of the world by its breakthrough in its relationship with Albania, on which both Governments deserve congratulations because thereby another potential flashpoint to the south of the Balkans was damped down. Greece is physically located in the Balkans. It wants nothing more than to achieve a similar relationship with the former Yugoslav republic, but it needs support to do so.
It is no wonder that, in matters of politics in the Balkans, Greece feels misunderstood. It cannot understand why, after it stood alone with the United Kingdom against the forces of fascism between 28 October 1940—Ohi day, as it is still called—and 27 April 1941, when Athens finally fell, its former allies now appear to be taking the part of forces against which it stood, especially when, after the second world war, it endured those further four years of civil war to hold the line against the communist advance to the Aegean. That was done for the United States and for the United Kingdom especially—the world powers of the time—and those Governments objected, in 1944, to Tito's change of the name of Vardar Banovina.
603 Being located physically in the Balkans, Greece has a more intense interest than anyone in peace and prosperity in that region yet it is accused of rocking the boat in former Yugoslavia. It might, with justice, argue that the boat in former Yugoslavia was rocked in the first place notably by Germany, in its premature recognition of Croatia and Slovenia without perhaps working through the consequences before that was agreed, and by fellow members of the European Union, including the Government of the United Kingdom.
Greece bears no responsibility for the mess in the north of former Yugoslavia, which has been described at some length by previous speakers in the debate, nor is it guilty of trying to create a further mess in the south—quite the contrary.
If you will forgive an image that may lack the dignity that the gravity of the position deserves, Madam Deputy Speaker, one might compare what is happening in Yugoslavia to a dispute that is confined to a sack. In that sack there are warring combatants, in a mishmash of arms and legs, if I may echo the words of the right hon. Member for Guildford. It is a mess, but it is at least contained in the sack. One might regard the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia as the bottom of the sack. Greece holds the key to preventing that sack from splitting, and the dispute from spilling out further east and south.
I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) who mentioned the serious danger, if the warfare in former Yugoslavia cannot be confined to that territory, of the involvement of Russia and Turkey in future. They have more than a weather eye on what is going on elsewhere in former Yugoslavia at the moment.
I earnestly entreat the House to pay serious attention to the actual position in the former Yugoslavia. The internal problems of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia must be resolved before that country can receive recognition beyond the conditional recognition that it has at present. I earnestly entreat the House to support Greece and to see the situation from Greece's point of view. We must help Greece to achieve and to sustain a relationship of co-operation and support with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia and with all its neighbours in that part of the world for the sake of peace, security and prosperity in that area and throughout the world.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
I will not respond to the comments of the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) in detail, but I suggest that his speech contained a degree of special pleading that is not supported by the facts. I share his love of Greece and his sense of indebtedness to the great civilisation that was born in that land to which we all owe so much.
I had the privilege of leading a large parliamentary delegation to Greece in September 1993 and, although I was overwhelmed by the friendship and hospitality that was extended to us, we were extremely concerned—to put it mildly—by the expressions of almost blind allegiance to the Serbian cause that were voiced by many Greek politicians. If the hon. Gentleman were to read some of their comments, he might recast his thoughts a little. Of course I agree that it is very important that Macedonia 604 should not become part of a wider Balkan war; we are entirely at one on that point. However, Greece's handling of the issue has made that more, rather than less, likely.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in putting the Greek case, the hon. Member for Knowsley, South inadvertently echoed the sort of language that was used in the 1930s about Austria?
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
I shall not be led astray by my hon. Friend, who has made his own point in his own way. I do not criticise my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, but it is a pity that neither the Foreign Secretary—we understand how busy he is—nor the Ministers of State are present to listen to the debate. When we debate important foreign issues in the House, I believe that there should be a greater presence throughout on both Front Benches.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tony Baldry)
In fairness to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, he has apologised to the House and explained why he cannot be here for the debate. He has to meet a number of Russian delegations who attended the VE day celebrations. It is very important that we maintain close relations with the Russian Government and the Russian people.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
The Minister of State said nothing about that to the House. The Foreign Secretary made a passing reference to it which we all accept completely, as I did a minute or two ago.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
No, I will not give way to my hon. Friend again. I think that it is important that one be able to make speeches without constant interventions of that sort.
A number of hon. Members who have spoken in the debate—particularly the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who I think made a very thoughtful speech—have referred to the events of the past weekend. My wife and I were among the vast crowd that stood outside the palace yesterday, and we were much moved, as I am sure everyone was, by what we had gathered to observe, commemorate and truly celebrate.
However, for me, the celebrations were marred a little by the thought of what is happening in Europe at present. Anyone who has regard for what has happened in the Balkans, the very heart of Europe, over the past four years cannot help but feel a sense of disappointment and a degree of shame. I believe also that we are still on the brink of a full-scale Balkan war. I hope and pray that that does not happen, but we are not far from that eventuality. The west needs to adopt a degree of resolution, clarity and cohesion in its policy toward the Balkans that we have not seen to date.
I have been critical of our policy in the former Yugoslavia on many occasions. I still believe—I make no apology for reverting briefly to this point—that if there had been greater resolution in the autumn of 1991 when Dubrovnik and Vukovar were being shelled, and if the air and naval patrols for which some of us called had been sent in to deter the Serbs, we might have escaped the appalling catastrophe and horror of Bosnia.
605 A number of myths, which have formed the basis of our policy towards Bosnia in particular, should be exposed and dealt with. They lie behind the sort of vacillation that we have seen in the past 24 to 48 hours to which a number of hon. Members have referred already. General Rupert Smith asked that certain action be taken, but his request was countermanded by civilians on the ground. Of course I do not hold the British Government responsible for that incident; that would be absurd. However, I was a little less than happy about the responses that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave to interventions on that subject.
I shall deal with the myths as I see them. Two have been referred to eloquently this afternoon. First, there is the myth that we are dealing with an area that for centuries has been rent by enmity between different races and religions. That is not true. In his admirable speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) referred to the "History of Bosnia" by Noel Malcolm, which was published last year. That should be compulsory reading for anyone who is interested in that conflict. Anyone who has read that book would not perpetuate the myth.
My right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Livingston referred to Sarajevo. In 1984, when it hosted the winter Olympic games, it was held up as an example to the whole world of mutual tolerance with people of different faiths living together in harmony. It was not the recent creation of Tito's authoritarian regime, as some hon. Members have suggested. The synagogues, mosques and Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches of Sarajevo were not built during the time of Marshal Tito. For centuries, the populations have lived together, intermarried and, as the hon. Member for Livingston said, been educated together. Even during the last appalling three years, many of them have stuck together.
In my office in the House I have seen the leaders of the Serbian Council, which consists of 200,000 Bosnian Serbs who strongly support a multi-ethnic Bosnia. Furthermore, as has already been said, there are still Croats and Serbs serving within the Government of Bosnia.
Here I come to the second myth on which I believe that policy has been too closely based. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford has spoken of it too. It is the myth of Bosnia as a Muslim country. That just is not true. Anyone who has had the privilege of meeting people such as Haris Salidic, the Prime Minister and former Foreign Secretary of Bosnia, and many of his colleagues in the Bosnian Government, knows that they are dedicated to the idea of a pluralist multi-ethnic state, not one in which people are put into artificial compartments that have never existed and that cannot exist if true peace is to return to that shattered country.
But how often have we heard, both on the BBC and even from Dispatch Boxes on both sides of the House at earlier stages, references to "the Muslims", as if Bosnia were a wholly Muslim-led nation, with a wholly Muslim Government? The hon. Member for Livingston said that the Muslims of Bosnia are, as it were, the Anglicans of the Muslim world. I too have used that term in the past, and it is true that it is difficult to imagine people less fundamentalist.
Yet what has happened over the past three years would have driven many people into the arms of the fundamentalists. That has not happened in Bosnia. It speaks volumes for the courage and dignity of the 606 Bosnians, and their sense of balance and proportion, which they have maintained against the most overwhelming odds, that they have not been so driven.
On 3 March, I hosted a large meeting in the Palace of Westminster at which learned doctors from the almost totally destroyed medical centre explained how they were trying to rebuild the centre, and asked for help. We were dealing not simply with qualified doctors, but with some of the most eminent physicians and surgeons in the world—people who have perfected various techniques in brain surgery and other specialties, people who were in the vanguard in Europe before the devastation of the war. They want nothing more than to be able to get back into the vanguard of medical advance in Europe.
The third myth, which was also mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, is that of the civil war. Yes, he is right to say that there are elements of civil war, but they have developed. It all began as a war of aggression led by the old Yugoslav national army, which was largely Serbian and which Milosevic meant to use as an engine to create a greater Serbia.
My right hon. Friend referred to Milosevic in sensible terms. Yes, he is there and in power, and yes, it would appear that over the past 12 months he has begun to recognise something of the enormity of the monster that he has unleashed. But even now he could do much to make us believe a little more readily in his conversion if he recognised Bosnia.
Certainly, as has been said both by my right hon. Friend and by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Livingston, that must be a precondition of any lessening of sanctions against Serbia. We should not forget that we would be wise to treat with Milosevic and to make it plain in treating with him that we acknowledge that, at the very least, Mladic and Karadzic—already named by the investigators as potential war criminals—have a substantial case to answer on war crimes.
Here I come to my fourth myth. How often have we heard, in the House and elsewhere, about maintaining neutrality between "warring factions"? That term has been used time and time again. Yet one of those so-called warring factions is the legitimate and recognised Government of an independent sovereign state, the President of which was invited to London this weekend as a Head of State to take part in the commemorations and celebrations to which several hon. Members have already referred. One does not refer to the Government that one recognises of a state that one recognises as a "warring faction" in the same breath as one uses that term to describe people who have been guilty of some of the most appalling atrocities inflicted by man on man since the second world war.
Probably no one in the Chamber knows and cares more about the holocaust than my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern). Although, of course, one cannot begin to make comparisons in terms of size, some of the things that have happened in Bosnia rank in fearfulness and horror with what happened during the holocaust. There have been concentration camps, exterminations and mass rapes. We all know the figures that have been quoted and have not been refuted. Indeed, they have been reinforced by those who have investigated them internationally—the 30,000 rapes three years ago, and so on. Little children have been violated, and men have had their genitals cut off and the parts presented on 607 plates. Those are documented atrocities that certainly brand those who have committed them or connived in them as war criminals.
This is no civil war in the ordinary accepted sense of the word. It was unleashed by an aggressive nation determined to build a greater Serbia upon the ruins of Yugoslavia, and that nation is now beginning to realise that that is not on. So in future when we talk of the conflict, let us not be enslaved by those myths.
We need a more resolute approach. Although I have called for tougher action I have never advocated putting mass ground forces into Bosnia. I have said that the air strike, properly used, and the ultimatum, delivered and followed up, have a part to play. We saw the truth of that in February last year in Sarajevo, because the fragile peace that has persisted since then in that tragic city began as a result of the resolute action taken at that point by General Rose. On the day on which General Rose's award for gallantry has been announced, I congratulate him on that—but I also share some of the misgivings of the hon. Member for Livingston about his subsequent actions. However, one must acknowledge that the terms of engagement were less than clear.
When a firm decision was taken and the Serbs believed it, they backed off. I am of the school of thought, as are many generals with real experience, that, faced with firmness, that not very well trained army would not have stood up to proper air strikes. It is appalling that, after the carnage at the weekend, General Smith's request was turned down. If NATO and the United Nations are to regain credibility and authority, it is absolutely essential that we do not continually have our bluff called by brigands—for it amounts to that.
The conflict is wider and bigger than the subject of our debate. The signals that go out from the way in which it is handled are incredibly important as we struggle towards a new world order. If the United Nations is to have credibility and authority, it cannot be seen as a body of vacillating men and women who haver and waver and then do nothing.
What is the way forward? I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford that, to a large degree, the key is in Belgrade. I make no apology for returning to a plea that I have uttered before in the House. As we are still on the brink of a Balkan war that could erupt, suck in Greece and Turkey—two NATO powers fighting each other—and have America and Russia supporting different sides, the leaders of the four permanent members of the Security Council that are involved—Britain, France, the United States and Russia—should come together for talks.
When I urged such a summit before, neither my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister nor my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—and I greatly respect them both—dismissed it out of hand or said that it was a bad idea; they said that the time had not yet come, but there are occasions when initiatives have to be seized. The coming into power of a new French president provides just such an occasion, and I would like Britain, in the person of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to take the lead, to seize the initiative and to invite President Chirac, President Yeltsin and President Clinton to meet, perhaps here, or somewhere else in Europe—I do not mind where the meeting is held—and to summon President Milosevic 608 to a session of that meeting. Other interested parties should be able to participate when the big four have talked the matter through.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and the right hon. Member for Livingston talk about a diplomatic solution. Of course they are absolutely correct, but we have to make sure that matters do not drift on, and that we try not to impose a diplomatic solution, but make it plain that Serbia has no future as an independent nation until it plays a full part in helping to bring about such a solution. We have to make it clear to Karadzic and Mladic that there is no hiding place for war criminals. They have a time to come to the table, but it is only a brief time, because we are concerned about bringing peace and reconciliation to a part of Europe which is at the heart of our continent and central to its future.
While I have never castigated or impugned the integrity or good intentions of my right hon. Friends—I am delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is in his place—I believe that there should be more urgency, and I hope that we will see action, if not this day, at least this month.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
Since the affairs in the former Yugoslavia that we are debating began, the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Sir P. Cormack) has displayed a sustained and eloquent interest and, as his speech today eloquently demonstrates, he has maintained an independence of mind and judgment which, whether one agrees with every aspect of what he says, none the less should excite the admiration of all hon. Members.
By the miracle of technology, the events in which the hon. Gentleman told us that he and his wife participated yesterday will have been seen all over the world. They will have been seen in the former Yugoslavia, where no doubt many people find the sentiments to be entirely admirable but wonder why for them the reality is rather different.
People in the former Yugoslavia will see that the taking of life, looting, rape, destruction of property, conquest of territory, persecution of minorities and ethnic cleansing were all good reasons for going to war in 1939, and that, having successfully overcome them, there should be proper commemoration. But they will also ask why, when the same evils are abroad on the continent of Europe, there does seems not to be the same unity of purpose as there was in 1939.
It can legitimately be said that circumstances are different, but we are under a substantial obligation to analyse why that is so. If it is not possible to create a concerted response such as that which we have been commemorating over the past two or three days, we should ask ourselves as searchingly as we can what is the most effective response that we can offer.
I associate myself at the outset with the remarks of the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), who rightly said that to describe what has taken place in the former Yugoslavia as a civil war is a somewhat facile and self-serving description. It is a description most frequently applied by those who are of the school of thought that what takes place in the former Yugoslavia has nothing to do with us. I note with interest that, while that response 609 frequently occurs at Foreign Office or Defence Question Time, when looking around the House when we have the opportunity to debate the issues in detail one finds that that school of thought is very poorly represented, if at all.
The Foreign Secretary gave a most lucid account of precisely why what takes place in the former Yugoslavia is of interest to us. The school of thought to which I referred suggests that what happens there creates no obligations, and in particular no moral obligations, on the people of the United Kingdom.
Considered from the pragmatic point of view of the political, economic and military interests of the United Kingdom, a conflict at the very heart of Europe with the potential to spread to Kosovo or Macedonia, a conflict which might involve our allies in NATO and members or potential members of the European Union and which might result in a truculent Russia and a guilt-ridden United States drawn into increasing patronage of the combatants, there is no doubt whatsoever that we have a substantial interest in the area.
What of our moral responsibility? It has become unfashionable to refer to moral responsibility in the context of Yugoslavia, although in relation to operations in the Gulf, moral responsibility was a frequently discussed issue.
Membership of the Security Council of the United Nations carries with it not only rights but obligations. If those moral obligations are not always recognised by hon. Members, those who are so sceptical about them should pay a visit to the young men and women whom we have sent to Yugoslavia to assist the United Nations effort there.
In truth, if not all politicians in the House feel a moral obligation for what happens in the former Yugoslavia, almost without exception the armed services personnel to whom I have spoken on the three occasions when I have visited the former Yugoslavia feel a moral obligation to fulfil what they see as being useful and necessary work on behalf of the international community.
I therefore have no hesitation in asserting that there is a moral obligation, which the House should recognise and emphasise right now, to prevent ethnic cleansing in Europe so far as we can. We cannot do that alone. We can only do it through existing international institutions. The United Nations and NATO have been most directly involved in the operations in the former Yugoslavia. The United Nations has been much criticised.
One has to ask oneself what one expects when some of the resolutions from which the mandates are drawn are, to say the least, delphic; when in the beginning the political and military direction afforded to the United Nations forces was, to say the least, inadequate; when, on occasion, insufficient or inadequate military resources have been available to the United Nations; and when, as some of the contributions today have already acknowledged, there is a system of dual command in which assets such as aircraft are not under the overall command of the commander on the ground, which flies in the face of all the accepted canons of good military command and control.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
The hon. and learned Gentleman has talked about an international moral responsibility and the laudable objectives of a unity of purpose and a concerted response, but is not the truth, however sad that may be, 610 that the United Nations, as presently structured, simply does not have the wherewithal to pursue those laudable objectives?
§ Mr. Campbell
I agree with that general proposition. Perhaps on some other occasion we can discuss the important lessons to be learned from our experience in the former Yugoslavia.
I wish to return to a question which to some extent has already been explored. It concerns the request apparently made by Lieutenant-General Sir Rupert Smith during the weekend for the use of air strikes in response to the mortaring of Sarajevo, or a part of Sarajevo, which resulted in a number of dead and injured. That request was denied. The Secretary of State sought to lay out the position as he understood it, but I share with the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South a certain reservation about the extent to which the Secretary of State was able to satisfy us on the matter.
The whole sorry episode is perhaps illustrated by the quotation ascribed to a United Nations spokesman, who is widely reported as having said, "We will not do nothing." If that is the response of the United Nations to a gross and severe provocation, it is hardly surprising that the deterrent effect of threats made by the United Nations has been rather less forceful than many of us in the House would have preferred.
It is right to recognise that the United Nations effort can be only as good as its members make it. If we are to embark on such joint operations involving the United Nations and NATO, much clear thinking has to be done. There have to be clear political and military objectives and clear rules of engagement which both sides endorse. Above all, there have to be adequate resources, not just in terms of numbers but in terms of quality. What is the point in declaring a no-fly zone if it takes months to deploy the aircraft to enforce it? What is the point in authorising a naval blockade if it takes months to deploy the ships to enforce it? What is the point in declaring that certain areas are safe areas if there is neither the will nor the resources to protect them?
The question that must be in the minds of many hon. Members today is: if tomorrow Serbian forces set out to overrun one of the United Nations safe areas, what would the United Nations response be? Could there be circumstances in which the United Nations would stand back and allow such a safe area simply to be overrun?
People often contrast the success of the Gulf war with operations in Yugoslavia, but the parallel is wholly inept. Yugoslavia is what one might described colloquially as a blue-helmet operation in which the political direction and the ultimate military control is provided by the United Nations. The Gulf was notable for the fact that there was not a blue helmet in sight. Security Council resolutions authorised action and the allies took action. One is at least entitled to ask whether, if a similar arrangement had applied in the former Yugoslavia, circumstances might have been different.
We must also recognise that major operations on the part of the United Nations stand a chance of success only when the United States is engaged politically and militarily, and in this instance the unwillingness of the United States to put troops on the ground has been a major source of difficulty. We should recognise that the conflicting views on the issue of the arms embargo have weakened the perception of the allied effort. I heard 611 Secretary of State Perry tell a group of people in Washington not so long ago that NATO is more important than Bosnia. That he felt it necessary to say it was an eloquent indication of the extent to which the differing views of how to deal with Bosnia have, from time to time, caused considerable difficulty in the alliance itself.
What then should our policy be? We must stay as long as the mandate can be implemented, without undue risk to those whom we have sent there. That judgment places heavy reliance on the commanders on the ground. It does not mean that there is no risk. We must accept—and we should be willing to take responsibility for accepting—that we are putting the lives of men and women from the United Kingdom at some risk. The events in Maglaj a few days ago are a clear and recent example of that.
There is no question but that we have done extremely well in the former Yugoslavia, not just in what we have achieved in facilitating the humanitarian effort—it is right that the aid organisations and the Overseas Development Administration should be properly recognised for the tremendous efforts that they have made both in the supply of material and in the provision of utilities—but in what we were able to broker in the federation between Bosnian Croats and what we should now rightly call the Bosnian Government side of the argument. That federation is occasionally precarious, but the fact that it is in existence at all and that it continues to hold is substantially due to the efforts of our British forces there.
We should also recognise what we have been able to deter. It is less easy to calculate, but in the context of what we are describing, it is extremely significant; it bears not only on the risks to our forces, but on the question of the willingness to implement our threats. Anywhere in the former Yugoslavia, members of our forces say with considerable authority that they believe that one of the reasons why they have—relatively—inflicted fewer casualties than others is that they have made it clear that any effort to engage British forces will be met with a resolute response and full use of the terms of engagement which allow for self-defence.
We must not withdraw from the former Yugoslavia unless we are compelled to do so. Once again, I notice absent from the debate some of those who, from time to time, blithely call for withdrawal. I am sorry that they are not here, because I would say to them that they should not talk about withdrawal until they have driven the road from Gorni Vakuf to Vitez and seen the physical circumstances that withdrawal would involve. Then and only then would they be in a better position to make a judgment about the desirability or otherwise of withdrawal.
Withdrawal would be difficult and dangerous. Estimates of what it would involve range from 40,000 to 50,000 additional troops and six weeks to several months. One thing is clear, as the Secretary of State for Defence acknowledged last week: there can be no question of the United Kingdom withdrawing its forces unilaterally.
Our policy has become one of containment. Indeed, we are accused of that by the Bosnian Government. It is right to say, however, that they are as much the architects of that policy as any others involved. So long as conflict seems more likely to bring rewards than does negotiation, containment is probably the only policy available to us.
612 We should not lift the arms embargo. The right hon. Member for Guildford made quite an eloquent case against those who have argued for the continuing imposition of the embargo, but the one issue on which he did not touch, to which the Secretary of State referred in opening the debate, is that a lifting of the arms embargo would make withdrawal inevitable. It would provoke an immediate response by Bosnian Serb forces to make use of their present advantages. Time would also elapse before any heavy weapons were delivered and before those to whom they were delivered were proficient in using them. The policy of lifting the arms embargo used to be described as "lift and strike". The more sagacious minds on Capitol Hill now describe it as "lift and pray".
The contact group is the best hope. Within its membership, some have a particular role to play in impressing on some of those involved in the conflict the need to reach an accommodation. I say unequivocally that a Germany which aspires to permanent membership of the UN Security Council has to demonstrate a capacity to influence Croatia. A Russia which wants to command special NATO recognition has to continue to press Mr. Milosevic to renounce the notion of a greater Serbia and give Bosnia-Herzegovina necessary recognition.
A United States which has embarrassed NATO over the arms embargo has to continue to press the Bosnian Government, especially to persuade them that there is no prospect of the international community entering the conflict on behalf of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Whether that would be right or wrong is neither here nor there: there is no political will for such action.
Towards the end of the speech of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who opened the debate on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, there was an interesting and thoughtful passage about other ways in which the conflict might be resolved. They are well worth exploring, but the fighting must stop before such interesting ideas stand any chance of implementation.
Nothing prepares one for the destruction that one sees in the former Yugoslavia. It is not the houses damaged by shell fire that affect one most, but those that have been burned out, not so that others can occupy them, but so that no one can occupy them. Such houses have in truth been cleansed by fire. Parts of the former Yugoslavia are a hellish place, but I have no doubt that what has occurred is nothing compared to what might have occurred but for the presence of the United Nations and the United Kingdom forces.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
I do not wish to follow directly the very eloquent speech of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), because I want to return to the topic of an area of the former Yugoslavia with which the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) dealt. In commenting on the potential military and economic conflict taking place in and around the Republic of Macedonia, the hon. Gentleman forcefully put what might be called the Greek case. I do not wish to go into a detailed, line-by-line contradiction of everything he said, but in putting a slightly different point of view, I should merely like to echo the comment that I made in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Sir P. Cormack).
613 When an economic aggressor tries to justify the theft of a national name and a national symbol by saying that peaceful actions inevitably lead to greater aggression by another nation, I wonder whether I am alone in hearing echoes of conflicts the end of which we were celebrating earlier this week. I wonder if I am alone in thinking that a nation—Greece—which is forced to use such phrases to justify its views and actions is guilty of at least some moral fudging.
I make no apology for referring again to Macedonia, because, as the hon. Member for Knowsley, South rightly said—in perhaps the one part of his speech with which I agree—it is a potential flashpoint, despite being part of the former Yugoslavia where, so far, conflict has not developed to any very significant extent internally, along the lines of ethnic mix. That part of the former Yugoslavia made the transition to independence without significant bloodshed.
In an Adjournment debate on 30 November 1992, I called on the Government to support Macedonia's efforts to achieve recognition and I received a ready response from the Minister of State. I said that it was the one part of the former Yugoslavia that was able to negotiate the removal of the Yugoslav army without bloodshed. Despite that, it remains a centre for potential conflict, for reasons that are partly internal and partly external.
The hon. Member for Knowsley, South detailed the conflict with Greece, which constitutes the external reason for Macedonia remaining a potential flashpoint. The conflict can be described from the Macedonian side only as economic aggression by Greece. Nobody forced Greece to impose economic sanctions on Serbia, which are creating serious economic problems in Macedonia. That small country relied on the export of its produce to provide some sort of living for its relatively small number of inhabitants. It now has to use an extremely long land route through Bulgaria for its exports because the natural route through the territory of its so-called peaceful neighbour is barred to it. That cannot be the way to avoid conflict.
The ethnic mix in Macedonia is another reason for potential conflict. Sensibly, and with considerable international help, the Macedonians, unlike the people in any other republic of the former Yugoslavia, have gone so far as to try to establish the boundaries of this ethnic mix. This was achieved in a recent census, which has generally been accepted as accurate by most observer nations and which led to a focus on certain problems.
For example, the Albanian minority in Macedonia, which previously believed itself to be rather larger, is barred from its traditional sources of higher education in Kosovo. It looks to the Macedonian Government to provide the ethnic higher education that was a traditional right of Albanian populations in adjoining countries. However, it has not so far been satisfied on what many people, especially those from minority communities, regard as a legitimate demand.
I am not trying to minimise the problems in Macedonia or to say that they have all been solved by the Macedonian Government, but any solution cannot but be made infinitely more difficult by the imposition of economic sanctions by a country to which we are allied. There is no reason for those sanctions, at least none that is accepted by any Macedonian.
§ Mr. O'Hara
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that the imposition of the partial humanitarian and trade blockade by Greece is the only peaceful means that it has 614 to draw the attention of other countries to its dispute with the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia? Does not he further accept the judgment by the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice that Greece is entitled, despite the plea by the European Commission, to impose the blockade under article 224 of the treaty of union because the tension between the two countries constitutes a threat of war? Does he accept—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is too long. He is starting to make a speech.
§ Mr. Stern
Doubtful court decision or not, the Greek Government's unilateral action in imposing economic sanctions on Macedonia is leading directly to additional poverty and starvation, and that cannot be accepted by any civilised nation.
Macedonia's economy was fragile before the Greek action, and it is far more fragile now. That means human suffering, which western nations have taken some action to try to alleviate. A systemic transformation facility of the World bank was opened in 1993 and expired in 1994. Such facilities are intended to lead to a full IMF programme of assistance for nations suffering from economic deprivation or aggression. Has that facility been renewed, or are negotiations being held aimed at renewing it? I trust that, if there are such negotiations, the Government are playing their full part in them. Perhaps, if the Minister cannot answer that at the end of the debate, he will write to me about it.
I undertook to be brief and not to reply in detail to the many doubtful points made by the hon. Member for Knowsley, South. I shall conclude by focusing briefly on the undoubted problems in the area. We cannot prevent conflict either by attacking the economic stability of any part of the former Yugoslavia or by condoning economic aggression by any of our allies. The Government have gained many friends in Macedonia for their robust attitude to Greek actions in the past; I hope that they will maintain that attitude.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
Some hon. Members have said that Yugoslavia used to have a multi-ethnic population. We are being asked to support the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina on the ground that the Muslim-dominated Government in Sarajevo wish it to continue. In December 1991, Britain and other countries, under pressure from Mr. Genscher, decided to turn their backs on the territorial integrity of the former Yugoslavia. If we had been interested in retaining a multi-ethnic country in south-eastern Europe we should have defended the former Yugoslavia at that time.
In October 1990, I told the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the dangers on the horizon in that part of the world. In reply to a letter from me in April 1991, the Prime Minister said that he agreed that the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia should be maintained. We now know that, some eight months later, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary abandoned that position. We must ask what had changed in the interim. Frankly, I do not think anything had changed in south-east Europe to make them conclude that we needed to recognise the independence of Slovenia and Croatia, far less to encourage the population of Bosnia to hold a referendum on leaving the former Yugoslavia.
615 The only thing that changed the Government's mind—this was and, to large extent, remains my only criticism of Government policy on the issue—was their succumbing to German pressure because of the need for a quid pro quo on the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty. Following that, folly has led to folly, which has brought us to the present position.
§ Mr. Macdonald
My hon. Friend said that, in December 1991, the Government, when they should have been defending the principle of a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, recognised the independence of Croatia. Does he acknowledge that, in December 1991, the war in Croatia had been going on for only six months, ethnic cleansing had already taken place and the city of Vukovar was a pile of rubble? Were not the activities of the Serbian and Yugoslav army in Croatia precisely what led to the breakdown?
§ Mr. Wareing
I refer my hon. Friend to the speech that I made in the House on 1 November, which appeared in columns 150–153 of the Official Report, when I was the first person to mention the names Arkan and Seselj. I was the first person in the House to say who the real war criminals were, who led the irregulars in eastern Slavonia and other parts of Croatia. I assure my hon. Friend, therefore, that I am fully aware that war and ethnic cleansing were occurring, but it was not all one way.
At the time, I was highly critical of the actions of the Jugoslav national army—I criticised the bombardment of Dubrovnik—but it is a pity that people with an anti-Serb attitude are never prepared to criticise the Croats or Muslims when they endanger the peace and break ceasefire after ceasefire, as Muslim forces have in recent times, breaking out of the so-called safe havens and expecting no retaliation from Bosnian-Serb forces. I have been critical of all of them. What I liked about the Government's policy, until they recognised Croatia, was its even-handed approach, and in that speech on 1 November 1991, I said so.
The Government took no notice of the Badinter report or of Lord Carrington's view that Slovenia and Croatia in particular did not matter. The Badinter report suggested that Slovenia fulfilled all the necessary conditions for recognition as an independent democratic state, but the same could not have been said about Croatia. When we viewed the position at that time, we should have remembered that one third of the Serb population of the former Yugoslavia lived outside Serbia. It was they who were being ethnically cleansed in Zagreb and Krajina. The largest section of the Serb population in Croatia lived in the city of Zagreb and it was they who first suffered from ethnic cleansing.
In September 1991—remember the date—Croat forces, who may have been irregulars but they were certainly Croats, went into Bosanski Brod, which is located in north Bosnia. At that time, Bosnia was recognised by the international community, including Britain, as a part of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. What did they do in Bosanski Brod? They massacred an entire community.
I will never forget where I stood on 2 May 1993. It was on the edge of a mass grave. I had already seen the bodies of 42 men, women and children who had been massacred 616 by Croat forces in that part of the world before it was liberated by Serb forces. I saw two people's bodies being discovered. One was a woman. I knew it was a woman only because she had worn a blue skirt with white spots. The stench was indescribable; I felt like a British soldier arriving at Belsen. Those Serbs had been massacred by Croat forces, who had come from just across the River Sava from Slavonski Brod in Croatia.
When I and my colleagues—hon. Members on both sides of the House—arrived in Belgrade that night, we contacted the media, who were totally indifferent to what had happened at Bosanski Brod. It was easy to get there—we had done so, and had seen and smelt the bodies. We were literally sick at what we had seen, but the media did not want to know. I am sure that they will suppress most of what I have to say in the House tonight. Our reports did not fit in with their angle or line, so they did not print them. They could have taken photographs, as I did, and seen what had happened.
In Derventa and Bosanski Brod, there was Ustashi graffiti on the walls, and it was clear that, by any stretch of the imagination, Franjo Tudjman's adherents were not all pure democrats. In "The Wastelands of Historic Reality", published by Tudjman in 1989, he pours doubt on the extent of the holocaust and especially on what had happened to Serbs, Jews and gipsies at Jasenovac concentration camp, the biggest such camp in the Balkans. Ironically, on VE day it was taken by Croat forces in their recent aggression—if we are going to use that word, let us use it in every case—against the Serb population in western Slavonia, who have had roots in the region for centuries.
§ Mr. Gapes
My hon. Friend mentioned Jasenovac camp and the book by the President Tudjman. I hope that he will confirm that the book, as I understand it, includes an allegation that the Jewish people in Yugoslavia were in charge of their own extermination in that concentration camp, and that it forms part of an anti-semitic tinge to President Tudjman, which our Government seem to have ignored in the past few years. They were prepared to invite Tudjman here—a man who admired the fascist Pavelic Government—but they did not invite anyone representing the partisans of Yugoslavia who defeated Hitler and his armies.
§ Mr. Wareing
That is true. In his book, Tudjman refers to Jewish guards being in control of the situation in Jasenovac.
Much more can be said about the record of the extremists in Croatia. Le Figaro has reported that fascist insignia are blossoming in Tudjman's Croatia and in Herzegovina. It says that in Herzegovina, on the road from Mostar to Sarajevo, some Croat volunteers proudly showed the swastika as a symbol on their uniform, and some were wearing Wehrmacht helmets painted in black.
I consider it outrageous that not only Tudjman but his vice-president were invited to the celebrations here in London. They were not invited to other capitals. Indeed, the Israeli President refused to meet the Croatian President recently, when his country's delegation opened the memorial museum of the holocaust in Israel. According to the New York Times, the invitation to Tudjman to attend the opening of the holocaust museum was an insult to 6 million dead Jews. It certainly was.
617 My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) said earlier that Tudjman had fought against the Nazis. It is true that he was a colonel in the partisan army. Is it not rather ironic that no representatives of the successors of that partisan army were invited to the celebrations last week? The Prime Minister would have been better advised to invite no one from the former Yugoslavia than to invite someone who is defensive on the question of Nazi genocide.
In 1944, Hitler made an offer. He said to the Croats, "We will free 1 million Jews in exchange for 10,000 trucks." In his book, Tudjman describes Hitler's offer as incredibly favourable. What was the alternative? The alternative was the gas chamber; but Tudjman saw fit to refer to an "incredibly favourable" offer.
The Ustashi leader, Mile Budak, who was executed after the war for his quisling activities, is now recognised in Croatia. Schools are named after him; a commune in Zagreb is called after him, as are streets, squares and other public institutions. He was recently described as a martyr and a Nobel prize nominee in the 1930s—but he was, in fact, the ideologue of the Pavelic state set up by Hitler in 1941.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) pointed out the other day, in a private notice question, that one Dinko Sakic—the last commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp—had seen fit to return from exile in Australia. This war criminal, who was never brought to trial, has returned to Croatia, and has said—according to a Dalmatian periodical—I am proud to have been an Ustashi.In the Zagreb journal Magazin, to which my hon. Friend referred, he said:I am proud of all I did. If I were offered the same duty today, I would accept it.Those are the people with whom, unfortunately, we found our Ministers associating during the VE day celebrations—celebrations of the defeat in Europe of fascism, which had caused the deaths of many millions of people in the second world war, including our own people.
We have had evidence of the desecration of the Jasanovac memorial complex. No action is taken by Tudjman to thwart the activities of his fascists. Those fascist tendencies have been noted not only by Le Figaro, but recently in articles quoted by Deutsche Welle in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The German Government, with Mr. Kohl and Mr. Genscher representing the foreign office, may have encouraged the creation of Croatia, but I am sure that they are having second thoughts.
I think that it would be well worth while for representatives of our Government to have words with the former burgermeister of Bremen, who is currently representing the European Union in Mostar: I am sure that he would have something to say about the activities of Croatian forces in that part of the world. The invitation to Tudjman was the wrong message to give.
I have mentioned the media. I observed them to be at fault not only in Bosanski Brod; when I went to Gorazde on 2 September 1993, when all was peace and quiet, I heard the BBC World Service tell the people of Britain and the world that it was coming under heavy shellfire. The UN commander there—the Muslim commander there—was able to tell me that no shells had been fired on Gorazde for six days.
618 I believe that General Sir Michael Rose—whom I was proud and privileged to meet only two weeks ago—performed a wonderful task in very difficult circumstances. He had to face abuse from Saladzic, and from people who should really thank the British forces and UNPROFOR for getting so much aid to Sarajevo and other parts of the world.
We hear people who know nothing—such as Madeleine Albright, the United States ambassador to the United Nations—call for air strikes against Serbs who are bombarding Sarajevo. No one excuses that action, but what is the reaction when Bosnian Muslim forces use the "safety" of the safe haven to launch their attacks and break ceasefires in Tuzla, Sarajevo and other parts of Bosnia? What is the reaction of Madeleine Albright—or the United States ambassador in Zagreb, Mr. Galbraith—to the outbreak of conflict in western Slavonia? When the Croat forces were launched on that area, Mr. Galbraith's reaction was only to criticise the retaliation on Zagreb.
As far as we are concerned, none of that is justifiable or moral, but we must have an even-handed approach. We must recognise that, if there is to be a solution to the problems of the former Yugoslavia—if the rights of all ethnic minorities are once more to be recognised—we ourselves must recognise that the Serbs too have rights. We hear talk of the dangers of a greater Serbia. There is nothing wrong with people of one nationality wanting to live together in the same country.
The Germans did that. I applauded with everyone else when the Berlin wall was breached. I remember standing under the Brandenburg gate at the start of the new year in 1990, and rejoicing with the crowd that Germany was united again. The new Germans have grown up, as in West Germany, in a spirit of democracy. We should have nothing to fear from a united Germany. If it is good for the Germans to be united, why is it wrong for Serbs?
Government policy should sometimes include the word "no". I remember the former Prime Minister saying "No, no, no." We should say no to those people who need to be reconciled to the present situation in Croatia and who want that country to be treated as if it were a western democracy—which it is not. We should have said no in December 1991. We should be prepared now to put the utmost pressure on the Croatian Government to liberalise and to democratise themselves.
If it was possible for Mr. Gorbachev to play a role in bringing about democracy in Hungary, Romania, Poland and the Czech and Slovak republics, it should not beyond our wits to bring such pressure to bear on Croatia, so that she can rightfully take her place as a truly democratic and fair country.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
I have had the opportunity to discuss this subject several times with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), so I know how well briefed he is and how sincerely he feels. It was good to hear him speak this evening.
In approaching this debate, two quotations persisted in my mind. One derives from a wonderful service in Winchester cathedral on Sunday, when the choir sang:And they shall beat their swords into ploughsharesAnd their spears into pruning hooks.Nation shall not lift up sword against nation;Neither shall they learn war any more.619 Feeling that rather undersold the value of our armed forces, I checked the biblical source and discovered that the wordsNeither shall they learn war any morewas a reference to a vision of Isiah, not a prediction. I fear that it will remain a vision, for it is no more realistic now than it was then. We need our armed forces, and they are making a massive contribution in the former Yugoslavia.
The second quotation that stuck in my mind comes from the wonderful book "Eastern Approaches", by Fitzroy Maclean. I recommend those hon. Members who have not read it to do so, and I recommend to those hon. Members who have read that book to re-read it, because it is highly relevant now.
Fitzroy Maclean writes about telling Churchill how worried he was that, if Tito were to be aided to power in Yugoslavia, that would lead to a communist state having special links with the Soviet Union, which might be bad for the United Kingdom's broader interests:The Prime Minister's reply resolved my doubts.'Do you intend,' he asked, 'to make Jugoslavia your home after the war?''No, sir,' I replied.'Neither do I,' he said. 'And, that being so, the less you and I worry about the form of government they set up, the better. That is for them to decide'.I am not sure how far the House can go in deciding the form of government that Yugoslavia should have, or even in distinguishing the different factions. I use that word advisedly, despite the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Sir P. Cormack). Although there is no doubt that the Bosnian Serbs have been the main aggressors, there has been enormous fault on all sides. The Bosnian Serbs have the arms of the former republic of Yugoslavia and therefore the military advantage—but there have been atrocities on all sides, as anyone who has visited that sad country knows.
The United Nations' response has been to deploy troops, initially to help to ensure the distribution of humanitarian and medical aid, and to assist the promotion of peace. However, there has been a dichotomy throughout our presence in the former Yugoslavia. The UN's emphasis has been on keeping or promoting the peace whereas NATO, entrusted with the military role, has as its theme the mass application of force, manoeuvre and the destruction of the enemy within a limited time frame.
Over the past three years, our position has continued to be ambiguous, in trying to maintain a peace that does not exist and seeking to impose a peace that does not exist. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to ask the Supreme Allied Commander Europe how many soldiers he thought he would realistically need to impose peace in the former Yugoslavia. Being an American, he replied, "Peter, I would need one soldier to sit on the head of every male Bosnian." Hon. Members can work out the numbers for themselves.
Peace enforcement would require massive military force. Peacekeeping, which does not exist, requires less. We have the major problem of seeking to enforce a peace that does not exist. The Ministry of Defence manual on wider peacekeeping states:A level of consent is crucial for the success of a peace operation.620 As a contributor to United Nations forces, we must maintain impartiality. However, we also need credibility. If we lay down a rule that is then flouted, we will lose our credibility.
There is an inevitable imbalance between impartiality and credibility. There is a quantitive dimension to that dichotomy, as well as a time frame. From a quantitive point of view, an isolated act of aggression—one shell or a series of shells fired into a safe haven—can be met with a sharp response by the UN through NATO. If there is a continual and deliberate military barrage over a period, and if the UN responded in strength over that period, the risk of that response being perceived as impartial among the three sides would be diminished. The larger the time frame within which that response continued, and the more sustained that it is, the more we would apparently lose impartiality.
Furthermore, none of the three sides has all its forces completely under control. They do not all come completely under the control of the three groups. There are warring factions, and a brigand element.
I spoke of the UN's role in humanitarian aid and peace promotion. The latter role has increased and more of it has been nailed to the UN soldier's job description. There were air strikes in 1993 and 1994, and after the Seville meeting, United States Secretary of State Perry said that such strikes would be more decisively made and widespread in the event of Serb aggression or intransigence. Air strikes have the purpose of protecting UN forces and maintaining safe havens created under Security Council resolution 836. Wider air strikes could also have the purpose of destroying the combat capacity of one of the forces.
As to the first, UN forces are lightly armed and have no tanks or heavy artillery, which is important. Possibly of more significance is that UN forces are deployed to assist in the completion of the roles with which they have been tasked. They are not deployed in a way that enables them to engage in military operations against any of the three sides. The reverse is true. They are integrated in the community and are sitting targets in the event of a breakdown of peace, if they become involved in the conflict. It has been possible to deploy our troops in the manner in which they have been deployed only because it is now possible, with the support of good military technology, for forces on the ground to call up air strikes at short notice to assist them. However, the troops on the ground cannot prevent violence
Several hon. Members have implied or specifically stated that, by maintaining forces in the former Yugoslavia, we are able to prevent the spread of conflict, but it does not work that way. Troops were heavily deployed in Gorni Vakuf and the war raged around and through that town. Troops were deployed in Vitez and between the two periods that we were there, a year ago and in March, civil war raged between Muslim and the Croats. Similarly, the terrible events of Novi Travnik took place despite the presence of United Nations forces nearby.
If our aim is to stop the war by force, we will need to deploy our troops elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia and with different weapons. We cannot get to where we would need to be to stop the war from where we are now because our troops are in the wrong position to stop the war and have the wrong equipment. If we decide that it is our role to separate the combatants, we will need to start from somewhere else. We cannot get to a peace enforcement role from our current position. We would need to withdraw and redeploy with different weapons.
621 I understand the frustration that is rightly felt in the United States at having armed forces that cannot act to stop the war located in the former Yugoslavia. However, the truth is that they cannot stop it, because they do not have the necessary weapons or numbers of troops and they are deployed in the wrong place.
In the past year, there has been a federation of Muslims and Croats, which seemed to be very promising. When I and other members of the Select Committee on Defence were in the former Yugoslavia a year or so ago, we thought that there was a confluence of various factors that seemed to be quite promising.
First, after the horrific bomb that killed 68 people in a Sarajevo market in February, there was revulsion throughout the world and a feeling that something must be done. That led to a strengthening of attitudes, at least in the short term.
Secondly, the Muslim-Croat federation seemed to offer hope. The fact that two of the three sides were no longer fighting each other offered hope of further peace. In addition, rather more than a year ago, there seemed to be a war-weariness on all sides.
The final factor was the courage and determination of United Nations troops and, exceptionally, of British forces, which are widely regarded as being quite outstanding, inspired by the truly remarkable leadership of General Sir Michael Rose. Those factors came together rather more than a year ago. It seemed that peace had a chance; a remote one, but one that needed to be taken.
Now things look quite bleak. The Croats have taken advantage of no longer being in conflict with the Muslims and we have seen a pre-emptive strike by the Croats. The Muslims have taken the chance over the past year, especially during the four months of the ceasefire, to re-equip and rearm. I am told that they are now extremely well equipped and armed. They have all the arms that they need other than heavy equipment such as heavy artillery and tanks. They are well equipped for fighting in mountainous terrain.
Where do we go from there? If military skill and courage could find a solution to the problem, it would have been sorted out some time ago, but they are not enough. The troops have been given tasks that are not achievable, and they must not be given further such tasks in future. Tasks that are militarily unachievable should be phased out.
The expression "safe havens" carries with it a message of hope, but if that message is not backed up with military force, a safe haven is not safe, merely a pious hope. It would take much greater force than is deployed at present—I believe an unacceptably greater force—to prevent war in the safe havens. To make the safe havens completely militarily safe is not a realistic objective.
I regretfully welcome the decision that the Royal Welch Fusiliers should not be replaced when they leave Gorazde in September. The military situation in which they have been put is almost impossible.
We in the United Kingdom should not be sucked further into the Bosnian quagmire. We must resist those people, whose background is normally political rather than military, who say that we should extend air strikes. If the United Nations is perceived as partial, it will forfeit its current status as a promoter of peace.
I conclude that we must hunker down and phase out where we can. This year's statement on defence estimates—the White Paper—says that the 622safety and security of British troops in Bosnia remains of paramount importance to the British Government.Our troops are in positions of enormous risk and I know that the French, who have tragically lost 35 soldiers against our sad loss of 13, will certainly be considering withdrawal over the next few weeks. Those losses are a major factor in French thinking.But how do we get the troops out, if that is the decision that is taken? There was a NATO plan that, apparently, involved some 80,000 troops over six months. The latest figure that I have heard suggest that some 40,000 troops might be involved.
The last thing that commanders on the ground need is more armour. The problem is withdrawing along a narrow mountain road—and only one road is available in the north of the British deployment area. We certainly need helicopters, but we do not need armour. To send more troops would compound the problem.
The British people and others will need to face the serious issues that will be involved if we decide to withdraw. What will happen if women and children try to block the road of withdrawal? My view is clear: we would have to face down such a threat and not yield to it. We could not be blackmailed in that way, and I invite the House to consider what would be the implication of not being blackmailed in that way. We would need to back our troops in a difficult situation, which could be bloody. They deserve our complete support. The United Nations contribution has been worthy, even noble, and United Nations troops must not be put at risk by being held up in such a way.
In conclusion, I shall deal with the credibility of the United Nations and NATO. It is often said that we cannot withdraw, because it would mean failure, a loss of face and credibility for the United Nations and NATO. However, they will not retain credibility by compounding an error. The United Nations and NATO have done their best. It is a good best but, at the end of the day, we cannot stop people fighting if that is what they are determined to do.
§ Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)
I shall follow the good example of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Sir P. Cormack), who tried, in his excellent speech, to scotch some received myths about the situation in the former Yugoslavia.
In doing so, I fear that I will disagree with a couple of my hon. Friends. 'They will not be surprised by that, and I should say that I respect both their knowledge of the former Yugoslavia and their knowledge of foreign policy issues in general. In particular, I respect the genuine affection of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) for the old state of Yugoslavia, which has led him to the analysis that he brings to these debates. I believe that that analysis is profoundly mistaken.
I shall take up first the myth that is often put about that early recognition of Croatia, prompted by the German Government, led to war in the former Yugoslavia. That interpretation flies in the face of the facts. Croatia was recognised in January 1992. By that time the war had been going on in Croatia for a full six months. Vukovar was a flattened mess, Dubrovnik had already been shelled and ethnic cleansing had already taken place. An end to the war in Croatia came within a couple of weeks of its being recognised. Therefore, I do not understand how it can be said—it often is—that recognition led to the war or brought about a worsening of it.
623 My hon. Friend the Members for West Derby and for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) mentioned the role of President Tudjman and the Croatian Government in this whole mess. Obviously, no Opposition Member can feel very much political sympathy for the politics of President Tudjman. He is a right-wing nationalist with an authoritarian personality, if not authoritarian tendencies, and he has undeniably expressed anti-semitic sentiments.
My hon. Friends are sadly mistaken if they think that President Tudjman's shortcomings could possibly justify the campaign of ethnic cleansing and territorial aggression by the Jugoslav national army or the nationalist Serbs in Croatia in 1991. I must point out to my hon. Friends that, sadly, eastern Europe today is full of right-wing nationalist politicians and leaders, and I am sure that some of them harbour all sorts of unpleasant prejudices. As I have said, those shortcomings could not in any way justify the policies pursued by the Serbian regime in Belgrade since 1991.
§ Mr. Wareing
Does not my hon. Friend see that, because of the way in which the Serbs were being treated inside the newly declared independent state of Croatia, the Serbs who lived in Bosnia, with their memories of what happened during the years 1941–45, were realistically worried about what would happen in a state that might be absorbed by Croatia? There was no doubt that the Croatian regular army was active in Bosnia, certainly in Herzegovina, in the early days of the war there. The Serbs were frightened of being part of a Bosnia that would come under the influence of President Tudjman.
§ Mr. Macdonald
Before I say anything about the activities of the Croatian army and the Croatian irregulars in Bosnia, I must tell my hon. Friend that the policies of the Tudjman Government in the early and middle part of 1991, insensitive and heavy-handed though they may have been, are nothing like the authoritarian repression that the Serbian Government had been practising since the mid-1980s in places such as Kosovo. Just as I would say that that sort of authoritarian repression would not justify a reaction by the people of Kosovo to the extent of ethnic cleansing and other atrocities, so I say that the far less authoritarian style of the Croatian Government in 1991 could not in any way be used to justify what the nationalist Serbs and the Jugoslav national army have done in Croatia.
I must point out to my hon. Friends that that pattern is not unfamiliar in eastern Europe, where populations are being separated by the creation of new countries, notably in the Baltic states. Sometimes there is insensitive treatment of those populations. For example, some Russians have found themselves marooned in the newly independent states. However, that could not justify a policy by the Russian Government against the Ukraine, the Crimea or the Baltic states that parallelled the policies carried out in Croatia and Bosnia. It is not right to try to claim justification for what the nationalist Serbs have done in the former Yugoslavia on the shortcomings of the Croatian regime in particular.
I acknowledge that atrocities have been committed by all sides. I acknowledge particularly that there have been atrocities committed by Croatian irregulars in Herzegovina. However, there is a clear difference between isolated atrocities and the sort of systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing and terror carried out by nationalist Serbs and the Jugoslav national army in Croatia and Bosnia.
624 That difference has been recognised not just by myself or by journalists but by the investigators from the United Nations who have studied in close detail exactly what happened in all those countries. The head of the UN investigation team, Cherif Bassiouni, made it clear just a couple of months ago that that team's investigations estimated that 90 per cent. of the atrocities had been committed by Serbian forces, and that there was evidence of a systematic and planned campaign to remove wholesale populations from the areas that the nationalist Serbs wished to take over. Those points must be made firmly.
I should like to express my appreciation to those individuals and organisations who helped me on my most recent visit to the former Yugoslavia. During the Easter recess I took the opportunity to go to central Bosnia. I visited Zenica, Mostar and Tuzla. Although I did not accompany UNPROFOR, I saw evidence of the good work that it is doing and of the necessity of its remaining in that region. I also talked to people who work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and saw evidence of their work. I was impressed by the good work that they were doing.
I also saw evidence of the work of British non-governmental organisations such as Oxford Aid, which is carrying out good work in Mostar helping to resupply a new hospital unit. I must say a special word about those working for the Overseas Development Administration in Bosnia, in Zenica and Tuzla. I saw the immensely valuable work that they were carrying out. They are enormously dedicated people, and I hope that the Government will continue to support and finance the work of the ODA in that area.
It is interesting that many of the people working for the ODA—for example, those driving the lorries in convoys in Zenica—are ex-service men who had previously served in Bosnia with the British Army through UNPROFOR. They were so convinced of the good work that they were doing that, even after being demobbed, they wished to return to continue that work in a civilian guise. That is an eloquent testimony of what has already been said tonight about the high level of morale and commitment among the British forces in the former Yugoslavia.
I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) on an excellent speech, which I hope will be noted by those who take an interest in the issue. He did not engage in inflated rhetoric of the kind that the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence often warn us of, nor did he advocate imposing a political solution by force. He did not even say that we needed new policies as such, and his central message was that the policies that we had needed to be implemented and enforced. He said that we needed consistency, resolution and determination in the prosecution of the existing policies, and that that would begin to bring about radical change in former Yugoslavia.
My hon. Friend also rightly warned us away from the endless fixation with maps, and with drawing lines and dividing up territories in former Yugoslavia. That is particularly correct with regard to the contact group plan, the latest of the peace plans to be advanced. The key issue in the plan is not the internal division of territory, with 49 per cent. going to one side and 51 per cent. to the other. The argument is not whether those figures should be adjusted by one or two percentage points.
The crucial matter is the survival of Bosnia-Herzegovina as an independent sovereign state within its pre-war borders, with a full, independent and recognised 625 international personality. That goal has been repeatedly stated in international declarations and European Community statements, and also by the Government. That goal is clearly insisted upon by the UN Security Council, most notably in resolutions 820 and 836.
UN resolution 836 reaffirmed the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the responsibility of the Security Council in that regard. The resolution went on to reaffirm that any taking of territory by force or any practice of ethnic cleansing was lawful and totally unacceptable. I emphasise that particular aspect of the contact group plan, because I feel that the Government are very much resiling from it.
I fear that the Foreign Office is beginning to fudge this key issue. At the beginning of this year, I corresponded with the Minister of State, who has now taken his place on the Front Bench. In a letter to me dated 3 January 1995, the Minister said that any settlement would need to be agreed by all parties and preserve the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina within its existing borders. That is something with which we could all agree.
The Minister went on to say that the arrangements would have to include some relationship between the Bosnian Serbs and Serbia for them to be acceptable to the Bosnian Serbs. That too is something which would be agreed on both sides of the House. But the Minister went on to say that the demand that the Bosnian Serbs must join the Croat and Muslim federation before they can have a relationship with Serbia was not a realistic basis for negotiations, and would not contribute to securing a peaceful settlement.
The Minister of State appeared to say that it is not a requirement of the contact group plan or of a plan for a peaceful settlement that the nationalist Bosnian Serbia should be required to join the federation that had been established between the Bosnian Government and the Croat representatives. I found that a puzzling statement, as it seems to me that real and recognised states come in only three forms. One can have a confederation, a federation or a unitary state. The Minister appears to be suggesting that what is projected for Bosnia-Herzegovina would not fit any of those three forms.
If that were true, I fear that Bosnia-Herzegovina would not be a fully independent sovereign state in the sense demanded by the UN Security Council resolutions. That was previously thought to be the goal of the Government's policy. That is why I was particularly alarmed when the Foreign Secretary said that what he envisaged for Bosnia-Herzegovina was a "loose union" between the Muslim and Croat federation and the Bosnian Serb territories. I tried to intervene at that point, but the Foreign Secretary declined.
That does not fit the goal which was widely believed to underpin previous UN Security Council resolutions. It does not fit the goal of re-establishing and recognising Bosnia-Herzegovina as a fully independent and sovereign entity. More importantly, it does not fit the goal of the Government of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The British Government and the Minister of State are deluding themselves if they think that a "loose union" of that kind will be acceptable to the Government of Bosnia-Herzegovina or will lead to a lasting settlement. The Secretary of State for Defence will reply to this debate and not the Minister of State, but that point must be clarified in the near future.
626 One of the most important factors in the approach of the Foreign Office and the Government is that it simply ignores the existence of vast numbers of Serbs living within Bosnian Government territories at the moment. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South pointed out that some 150,000, or perhaps 200,000, Serbs live within Bosnian Government territories. It is important to note that Dr. Karadzic rules over what is probably a minority of the pre-war Serb population. Large numbers of Serbs still live within Bosnian Government territories, while large numbers fled abroad or to other parts of former Yugoslavia.
It is vital that the Government begin to address the existence of these pro-Bosnian Government Serbs, who have now formed themselves into a Serb civic council which has held meetings in Belgrade, Montenegro and Sarajevo. It is crucial that the voices of those Serbs—the sane Serbs—who want to see a democratic and plural community and Government in Bosnia are listened to. They should be given equal status to Dr. Karadzic's representatives in any future international discussions about the contact group plan.
It is notable that much the same happened in the areas of Croatia that were taken over by the nationalist Serbs. Not only were the Croat and other non-Serb populations in those areas cleansed, but large numbers of Serbs fled from them because they did not want to be ruled by such extreme nationalists. It is estimated that, of the 500,000 people living in the UN-protected areas in Croatia before the war began, fewer than 200,000 are left. The majority have gone—they have been cleaned out or have left, so we should be wary about thinking that the people who rule those depleted and depopulated areas command a mandate or popular support.
The main point is that we need, not new policies as such but a firm attachment to and the delivery of existing policies, as my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston said. In particular, we should give the Muslim-Croat federation much greater support. It has problems—notably, the fact that the population of Bosnia cannot merely be divided into Muslims or Croats as there are also people who do not think of themselves in such sectarian terms and they have to be found a place in the federation. Nevertheless, it has re-established relationships between groups that were fighting, and the Government should therefore fully support its success. That is not happening.
During my visit to Mostar, I found it striking that we are re-committing on a smaller scale the errors that we have committed throughout Bosnia on a large scale. The city has nominally been placed under a European Union administration and an EU administrator, whose deputy is a former commander of the Royal Marines. Legally, they have the right to issue decrees and laws, but they have no power to enforce them. They have 150 police, seconded from European Community countries, but they are simply there as advisers and have no role in enforcing the laws and edicts put out by the new administration. There is a huge gap between rhetoric and action in Mostar, which reflects the huge gap between rhetoric and action in Bosnia as a whole.
Secondly, the Government should provide full political support and ensure proper funding for the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Justice Goldstone is to be admired for the courageous and systematic way in which he has tackled his task, and he should get full, explicit, open and voluble support from the British Government.
627 Thirdly, we want robust implementation of the UN mandates that already exist to supply humanitarian aid and protect the safe areas. As has been said, UNPROFOR is not there as a peacekeeping force—there is no peace to keep—but it has a mandate to deliver humanitarian aid and protect the safe areas. It does not require massive intervention to implement that mandate. It does not require 150,000 or 200,000 troops, or the absurd, massive numbers of which the Prime Minister sometimes talks. It does not mean that we fight someone else's war and it does not require any new resolutions. It simply means implementing what we have been saying that we would do for the past three years. From the events of this weekend, when four people were killed in Tuzla and eight in Sarajevo, it is clear that we are still not implementing those humanitarian and safe area mandates, and that has to be done.
The policies that I have suggested are limited, modest and eminently achievable. They require not a change of foreign policy but merely its honest implementation. If that were done, the balance of the conflict would quickly turn. The balance—both of the forces on the ground and in a diplomatic and wider sense—is already beginning to turn. The announcement of the investigation of Karadzic and Mladic for war crimes and the fact that they are likely to be indicted before the end of the year, will increasingly isolate the nationalist Serbs, both politically and diplomatically, and exclude them from future discussions as genuine partners. In retrospect, that will be seen as a major turning point in the history of the conflict.
At the same time, the war on the ground is moving against the nationalist Serbs, with the reconquest of western Slavonia, the capture of Mount Vlasic in Bosnia and the fact that Croat forces are within shelling distance of the Krajina capital, Knin. In all, the evidence provided by recent events means that the old adage that there cannot be any military solution to the war cannot be sustained. There can be a military solution. It will take time, but the strategic position of the nationalist Serbs is weak. They lack population, are thinly stretched and are slowly being cut off from resources.
§ Mr. Gapes
Is my hon. Friend saying that he would be happy for the military conflict to continue for perhaps three or five years, with our lightly armed British personnel sitting ducks in the middle? That does not seem to be a helpful solution, or a means of getting a peaceful outcome to the conflict or of saving the lives of British soldiers.
§ Mr. Macdonald
It is fair to say that threats to UNPROFOR personnel have come from the nationalist Serb forces. The further removed they are, the better it will be. I was pointing out that the balance of force and the reality on the ground are beginning to change and that is not merely my view. In The Guardian on 3 May, General Michael Rose said:The Pale leadership clearly has yet to learn that, although the world may not be prepared to fight a war on behalf of the Bosnian government, the Bosnian Serb army is already overstretched, sanctions are hurting, and that to delay a peace settlement might cost them all that they have hitherto gained.He recognises that their long-term position is weak and unsustainable. We are often lectured about having to pay heed to the reality on the ground, but that reality is changing. Time is on the side of those who want a 628 multi-ethnic, multicultural, democratic Bosnia. Why should we and the Bosnian Government settle for anything less than that goal?
I am not convinced that the Foreign Office has woken up to that shift in the balance. The days are gone when the nationalist Serbs could reject peace plan after peace plan and the international community would return each time with a fresh compromise. We need a new determination and consistency on the preservation of Bosnia, the prosecution of war crimes, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the protection of safe areas. The Government signed up to those goals and they will be judged by how their actions match their rhetoric.
Before I finish, I must tell the House about a couple I met when I was in Tuzla. The wife was a councillor in the local Tuzla administration. I visited the couple at home and had assumed that both partners were Muslims, because the wife was politically active. However, she turned out to be a Croat from Dalmatia, and although her husband was from Tuzla, he was a Serb who had been fighting with the Bosnian Government forces since the beginning of the war. Sadly, his brother had been killed in the front line. They were fighting not for an ethnically pure community—how could they? —or to achieve the removal of any part of the population from that region, but for a multi-ethnic, plural, democratic society in Bosnia.
We not only share those principles, but they underlie all the progress that we have made in Europe since 1945 and which we have been celebrating this weekend. Those are the principles that we should apply in former Yugoslavia.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
We were right not to pass by on the other side. Among many uncertainties that I have about the Balkans, that is a certainty.
First, I congratulate the service men and women from this country who are either in the Balkans or in a support role in this country—the tail which is so often forgotten in these circumstances. I also congratulate the Overseas Development Administration and its officials and staff, and the non-governmental organisations, which are doing such a tremendous job in the Balkans. I applaud the skill and patience of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the determination of my right and learned hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Both have been outstanding, as I have discovered while searching back over the past two or three years to find a trend in British policy towards the conflict in former Yugoslavia and see where we are going.
It is clear that tens of thousands of lives have been saved because of the United Nations and British intervention, and I for one am proud of that achievement. Whether one calls what the British forces have been doing a "peacekeeping" or "buffer" role is academic: the fact remains that British Army doctrine is leading the world in that area. I gather that a new publication on peacekeeping has attracted sales of tens of thousands—even from the French, despite the fact that it is in English, which is really going it. I therefore congratulate the Ministry of Defence as well.
There is fighting on both sides in former Yugoslavia just today. Arms are getting through—no one knows exactly how, although there are many suspicions. The tragedy is that 13 British soldiers have already lost their lives and 162 United Nations soldiers are dead. I am sure 629 that it is in Britain's interests, first, that we follow the need for humanitarian aid—we have a moral obligation to do that—and, secondly, that we maintain a diplomatic effort. It is clear that there can be no military winners in this conflict, but it is in Britain's interest to ensure that we play a full role in the diplomatic effort in former Yugoslavia, not least because of the danger of the spread of uncertainty and conflict.
Many people in this country forget just how close former Yugoslavia is. As they speed away on their package holiday to Rhodes, they might wonder why their plane is diverted instead of going in a straight line. When they are off to the Greek playgrounds, they might wonder why they cannot take the route that they flew before—or drive there, as I did as a student 30 years ago. They might also wonder why the Italians are so concerned about the conflict—until they look at a map and discover that the shelling of Zagreb takes place only 100 miles from Italy.
We should also remember the sheer scale of the operation for our country. The account that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave of the numbers involved was a little conservative. If one includes the Royal Fleet Auxiliary staff, the Royal Marines, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force people—all 800 of them—in Italy, and all the Army personnel, the figure is nearer 6,500.
Former Yugoslavia has seen a century of remarkable turbulence. Substantial readjustment would always have had to be made following the collapse of the Tito regime and it would be foolish to imagine that we could stop that turbulence in a year or even five years. If one thing is worse than a religious war, it is a tribal war, and in this instance we have both.
Twenty-nine years ago, when I was driving through Yugoslavia as a student, I was stoned in Montenegro. I have often asked myself and many other people why I and my student friends from Cambridge should have been stoned. Was it because we looked like hippies? My hair may have been a shade longer—it was certainly not white with wisdom. I probably looked a little like a German. We were driving on a new road that had just been opened up through the mountains, and it had opened a whole valley to the influence of new people and ideas. There was massive suspicion, prejudice and, of course, ignorance.
Above all, I was simply foreign, and those people were not used to foreigners. In any event, I brought back the stone that dented my little old Sunbeam Rapier. A few miles down the road, we were swept to the side of the road to let a large black limousine with many outriders go past, and were told that that was Marshal Tito. So I remember the Yugoslavia of the 1960s, when there was much hope for that part of Europe, with its glorious environment and countryside. It has been a tragedy to see so much decline.
On British policy, I looked back over the weekend, between celebrations in my constituency of Salisbury, at the debate in the House on 25 September 1992, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said:By any military standards, the situation in the former Yugoslavia is a textbook example of what Britain should not become involved in. It is difficult to imagine a more appallingly difficult situation. There are no clear objectives. There is every prospect of getting sucked into an open-ended commitment, starting with humanitarian aid and the escorting of convoys and released prisoners from the detention campsߞall the most worthy and desirable objectives. Yet there is the greatest risk of a spread of the conflict.In 1964 we went into Cyprus and we are still there.630 He said later:I always said there could come a time when we could no longer walk by on the other side."—[Official Report, 25 September 1992; Vol. 212, c. 143–144.]I strongly agree.
By 14 January 1993, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a statement to the House on further deployment in Bosnia, he set the tone by saying:It is no exaggeration to say that there are many people in Bosnia today who owe their very survival to the presence of British and other United Nations forces.… our paramount concern was for the safety of British troops. This, of course, is still the case ….
None of this marks any change in our policy in the area.… Our position remains that it is not appropriate to intervene in what is essentially a civil war. Our overriding concern, as always, is to ensure the safety of our forces."—[Official Report, 14 January 1993; Vol. 216, c. 1057.] He said:Clearly, it is desirable that the project should continue but not 'at all costs'."—[Official Report, 14 January 1993; Vol. 216, c. 1061.]Following through the thinking in the Ministry of Defence, it is clear that we were facing a difficult situation with the arms embargo and much play was made about the Russians and Americans. It is clear that if the arms embargo were lifted there would then be fighting and UNPROFOR would be caught up in it. If that happened, the UN would withdraw.
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), who was no doubt wearing a very sober suit at the time, said:We judge that lifting the arms embargo would lead to an intensified conflict, with severe risks that UNPROFOR would be caught up in the fighting and lose its impartiality in the eyes of the warring factions. In such circumstances, UNPROFOR could no longer carry out the UN mandate and would have to withdraw."—[Official Report, 21 November 1994; Vol. 250, c. 57.]Last week, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said something very significant. Replying to my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), he said:An arms embargo is currently applied to all sides. Obviously, it has been breached to a certain extent, probably by all sides … Removing the arms embargo would mean the certain withdrawal of UNPROFOR."—[Official Report, 3 May 1995; Vol. 259, c. 329.]That surely can only mean either that it will not make any difference if there is any fighting or that he was so certain that there would be fighting if the arms embargo was lifted that he was prepared to say that there would be withdrawal following the lifting of the arms embargo. In recent days, therefore, there has been a significant shift.
In a letter that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary sent to all Members of the House, he said:We do not want to withdraw, but that may become the only option. The planning for what would be a difficult operation is nearly complete.The next few weeks are important.Obviously the position is very fluid.
We shall have a difficult time, not least because of what several of my hon. and right hon. Friends and Opposition Members have mentioned—the interest in, and reporting by, the media. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) referred to something which I also intended to mention. I refer to the remarkable comment by the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid)— I told the hon. Gentleman that I intended to quote him 631 with approbation—who said in the debate on the Army, and it was a pity that there were not more people present for that debate:The inadequacy of press and media reports was brought home to me. I stood in Gorazde and listened to the BBC World Service, which was saying that, for several days, a major artillery bombardment of Gorazde by the Serbs had been going on. I stood with the Muslim commander and not a shot had been fired for five weeks. Yet the BBC was continually repeating the news that the Serbs were bombarding Gorazde. I merely add a word of caution: a propaganda war is going on, and none of the press reports can be taken at face value to establish the facts."—[Official Report, 23 February 1995; Vol. 255, c. 527]That is a disturbing development in the entire conflict in the former Yugoslavia. The journalists, with the best will in the world, are obviously not in a position to be able to make objective judgments of what is going on. They are under enormous pressure, perhaps from their hosts and guardians of the day. In any event we need to, shall we say, take with a pinch of salt the commentaries which come from that country.
In the aftermath of war, there is always great trouble for the civilian population. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary saying that about 300 mines had already been cleared. One of the factors that has affected my thinking about Yugoslavia is the fact—it is an irony, as we have been celebrating VE day at the weekend—that I am here only by the choice of my electorate and extraordinary good fortune.
On Friday 13 May 1955, a group of us were playing, as 10-year-old schoolboys, on Swanage beach and one of my friends discovered what he thought was a tin of Spam in the sand. I turned away; I was bored. I went down the beach with a friend, Richard Dunstan, now a doctor. There was a blast and I was in the water, and five of my friends were dead as a result of an anti-personnel mine which had not been properly cleared by our side.
That had a pretty profound effect on my political outlook on Europe, but it also taught me that I am very fortunate indeed to be alive. I am especially keen that, whatever else we may do in the former Yugoslavia, we do all we can to ensure the clearance of mine fields, which may wreak so much havoc for so many years for so many people if we do not. Thank goodness that we have organisations such as the Halo trust, with people serving throughout the world.
If the time comes to withdraw from the former Yugoslavia, it will cost an enormous amount. That should not be the main issue, and it will not be. However, I believe that all the estimates that I have heard are underestimates. I do not know what the true figure will be, but I imagine that withdrawal will cost billions of dollars and take months rather than weeks. If we are talking about a mediaeval type of war in which one packs up for a few months when the snow falls, it will be the beginning of next winter before any of the United Nations troops could begin to come out. We need to bear that in mind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), whose speech I admired enormously, said that of course our troops cannot stop the war, and that is quite right. He said that they had the wrong weapons; that, too, is true. I believe that they also have the wrong rules of engagement to allow them to perform that duty. One of the big problems—and, I believe, mistakes—in the former Yugoslavia has been the fact that the dual key of the United Nations and the North 632 Atlantic Treaty Organisation has not worked. If anything, it has been to the disadvantage of United Nations troops, wherever they may have come from.
If we have to withdraw, I urge that there must be NATO supremacy. If we are having our bluff called by brigands, as my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Sir P. Cormack) said, we must at least be absolutely sure that the chain of command is not too long, and certainly not so tortuous that we have to have a dual key.
The balance continues to be in favour of carrying on the mission for the United Nations in the former Yugoslavia—just. If France withdraws—and it looks as though France will withdraw—I believe that we shall have to do so, too. I believe that we should not withdraw unilaterally, but I think that France may. If we did not have France there as the second biggest force, I suspect that we would have to withdraw anyway. If we have to withdraw, the Government can count on my support. It will be an extremely difficult decision to make. It will be based on factors including a great deal of intelligence that is not available to Members of the House, and I respect that, but it will be a judgment that will stretch my right hon. Friends in the Cabinet, and I shall support them.
A week ago today, I was in Italy with the Commander in Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe and members of the Defence Select Committee. If we are talking about British policy on the former Yugoslavia, we cannot fail to consider the effect on Italy. I strongly believe that Italy has been underestimated as an ally and that we should turn more attention to our relationship with Italy. Considering that the entire United Nations operation in the former Yugoslavia depends on Italy and any withdrawal will depend completely on Italy's participation, it is extraordinary that Italy is not a member of the contact group. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will reconsider that position, considering how crucial it will be in coming weeks.
Italy needs all the support it can get, from the European Union and more especially from NATO. The biggest problem, perhaps, that it has at present is public opinion in Italy concerning military matters. That is undermining the credibility of the Italian forces in the eyes of the Ministry of Defence. It was convenient, under former regimes in Italy and under the influence of the Communist party in Italy, to have a general atmosphere of not caring much about defence in any event. That atmosphere fell in well with the relationship of those regimes with the former Soviet Union. However, it is a dangerous position to be in.
There is a huge budget problem in Italy, but I hope very much that Italy will place orders for the EH101. I toured the Agusta factory and it was extraordinary to me that, although the Italian taxpayer had paid for half the development costs of that magnificent aircraft, the Italian Government had not yet placed a single order.
However, something wider in Italy is disturbing—the issue of conscription, a problem that we put behind us many years ago. When I asked the Italian Minister of Defence why the Ministry of Defence was so worried about conscription, the answer came back: "Because of the cohesion of the country". It is the old problem of a comparatively young nation, about 100 years old, in which the north continues to strain considerably to maintain cohesion with the south. The Italian Ministry of 633 Defence finds it important to place conscripts from both ends of Italy together in a military situation. We cannot ignore the role of Italy in our relations with former Yugoslavia.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said on 25 September 1992:Neither we nor the CSCE nor the UN yet have the aptitude or the powers to sort out problems within central or eastern European countries or the countries of the former Soviet Union, and we must remember that what is happening in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia is being repeated in two or three countries of the former Soviet Union to the east of Europe, where there are no television cameras and only occasional visitors."—[Official Report, 25 September 1992; Vol. 212, c. 126.]I am sure that he was right. I ask myself how far we have advanced since then. The hon. Member for Livingston alluded to that trend in our thinking in his very interesting speech. It is vital that we consider the former Yugoslavia as part of a wider picture in the Balkans and on the southern front of NATO.
There is a new threat and we need to have new responses to it. Italy is at the centre of an arc of crisis from northern Africa to Chechenya, characterised by political instability, ailing economies, internal disputes and by the instability of north Africa, with its artificial borders and tribal patterns. We should not forget that the Italian economy depends on the important energy resources of northern Africa.
There is also the whole question of Islamic fundamentalism, which we in this country have only begun to consider seriously as part of our foreign and defence policies. Islamic fundamentalism is not just about Islam, which will not inherently threaten us, but Islam tends to permit extremism and anti-western feeling and it can be a source of terrorism in those countries which embrace it. That can lead to enormous tensions, whether between Israel and the Arabs or between the states of Europe.
We cannot ignore the question of migration or illegal immigration. Albania, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and the former Yugoslavia have seen examples of economic migration and refugees fleeing war. We should think about that issue much more. I was stimulated by a visit last week to the Istituto Affari Internazionali, the international affairs think-tank in Rome, where I heard some very interesting ideas about, for example, the possible establishment of employment and industry in north Africa which would encourage closing the economic gap between north Africa and Europe and discourage economic migration. After all, we are talking about water, food and jobs—resource allocation at its most basic. One of the tragedies of the former Yugoslavia is that such a potentially prosperous part of Europe has seen such sad and rapid decline.
If we are considering our foreign and defence policies in that part of the world, we must maintain, first and foremost, the importance of not decoupling from the United States of America. We should not expand NATO too fast. Above all, we must try to keep Greece and Turkey on side and prevent them from entering into any further disputes. We must also listen to public opinion in this country, and that will be particularly crucial when it comes to a possible withdrawal from or an escalation of our involvement in the former Yugoslavia.
I conclude by referring to an opinion poll which I conduct every spring in my constituency. I shall be totally honest about it: I polled more than 2,000 paid-up 634 members of the Conservative association in my constituency and this year 532 of them responded to quite a long questionnaire. It contained a small section on defence and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence may be interested to know the results. The questionnaire stated:Military spending must always be a high priority".Some 97 per cent. of the respondents agreed with that statement. The survey continued:We should maintain our nuclear deterrent".Some 95 per cent. of those polled agreed with that statement. Of the respondents, 79 per cent. agreed that:On Salisbury Plain troops must respect the environment".However, when the survey said:UK should send more troops to Bosnia to help UN,only 9 per cent. of the respondents agreed.
§ Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West)
I am still reflecting on the findings of that very interesting survey of a totally unrandom sample of the British public. Despite the fact that it was a survey of Conservative party members, the Labour party respects their views in the same way as we respect the views of all other minority groups in our society.
§ Mr. Macdonald
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend so early in his speech, but he may not have seen the recent opinion poll of a wider and more random sample group. It showed that a clear majority of the British public is in favour of the work that the British Army is doing in Bosnia and would support further involvement should that prove necessary. That shows how out of touch Conservative Members are with the feelings of the British public.
§ Mr. Wicks
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment.
I rise to speak in the debate because, like other hon. Members who have noted it, I too am struck by the coincidence that yesterday our nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of VE day and today we are discussing the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. It is a coincidence of timing that should challenge us all and encourage thoughtful and sombre reflection about where we are in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. It puts into context all the talk that we have heard recently about 50 years of peace in Europe. In Bosnia, just two hours flying time from London, we find experiences that mock our pretensions about the strengths of collective security in Europe.
I was born a few years after the end of the second world war and, as I grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s, I learned more about the causes and the experiences of that war. I remember when I first saw, as many other hon. Members would have done, the flickering black and white television pictures from the concentration camps. We not only asked how this could have occurred, but we were struck by the conviction that we would never again see or allow genocide on any scale in Europe. We vowed that we would never again tolerate such naked aggression or territorial gain of that kind by military conquest, certainly not in Europe.
Obviously the scale in the former Yugoslavia is different, but the experience has been much the same. Therefore, we should ask very humbly why we have again tolerated such genocide and naked aggression on the edges of Europe. In that post-war period we created the 635 United Nations and we believed that, through the United Nations and by other alliances, we would prevent that kind of genocide in the future. Many of us who believed ultimately in the goal of peace recognised that we needed to expend money and large percentages of our national wealth on the military to prevent the threat of such incidents occurring again.
In our more recent history, many of us to the political left of centre tried to analyse the Falklands war and the Argentine invasion and, more recently, the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqis. Many found that analysis and the question of whether we could support such a war very difficult indeed. Many of us were persuaded to support the military expedition into Kuwait because we believed our leaders' assurances that higher principles were at stake than mere materialism or oil. We believed that it was a war against naked aggression and that the independence of a sovereign state was worth fighting for. Therefore, we supported the war. Perhaps we were wrong to believe that high principles were at stake; perhaps we were gullible in thinking that ethical and moral considerations were at stake and that the conflict was not just about oil and western profits.
I think that many people feel that, if we adopt only old-fashioned definitions of national interest in the future, we will find ourselves in deep trouble. There may be a strong national interest in defending things for humanitarian reasons. Many of our citizens might support military projects if mere humanity and not just precious resources were at stake. Perhaps when our elders, betters and leaders told us that they wished to create a new world order, we believed them too readily. Perhaps we were foolish to believe that the rhetoric had some ethical meaning that would outlast the mere weeks of convenience when it seemed to wrap the conquest of Iraq in a cloak of virtue.
However, those of us who argued against friends and colleagues that the war against Iraq was worth supporting always realised that one day our beliefs would be tested, that there would come an occasion when western profits were not at stake, and neither were money, cash, oil or other precious resources, but merely people and their nation. That test has come in the former Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia.
I have listened carefully to hon. Members on both sides of the House who know more than I do about the former Yugoslavia, and certainly more than I know about military adventures, and I have realised the complexity of the situation. Of course one knows that nothing is ever black and white, and that in wars there are always atrocities and evils on all sides. However, one thing is clear: the newly sovereign state of Bosnia has been the victim of territorial aggression. Much more than that, its people have been the victims of ethnic cleansing and mass rape—not the rapes that occur on all sides in any war but, it appears, a policy of the mass rape of Bosnian women, used as a deliberate act of military conquest. I do not recall such a policy being enacted in any other war, and that makes it an act of especial evil.
We have also seen genocide against the Bosnian people—although not, as has already been said, on the scale practised by Nazi Germany. None the less, we are talking about evil, and that is why, with others, I want to remind the House about the challenge that this debate 636 brings us, when yesterday we were celebrating, and not only celebrating but remembering and thinking through the implications half a century after VE day.
What has been the west's response? We have heard clear proclamations from many institutions, most importantly our United Nations, but also from the European Union, NATO and other western bodies. Those declarations have all pointed in the same direction. Two years ago, the Foreign Secretary said:Military conquest in Bosnia cannot achieve gains which are accepted. It is not enough to fly flags over ruined towns and villages. Worthwhile gains are not be secured by making a desert and calling it peace. There is no future for Bosnian Serbs down that path".—[Official Report, 29 April 1993; Vol. 223, c. 1169.]I ask the Secretary of State for Defence a simple question: is it still the Government's policy that the Serbs will gain nothing by military conquest? That policy has been articulated so well by the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself, by the Prime Minister and by the Foreign Secretary. Is it or is it not still the Government's policy? We need to know the answer.
With others, I applaud all those who have worked for the forces of good in the former Yugoslavia—UNPROFOR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and many others in the voluntary sector. I applaud the many organisations and ordinary decent human beings who in that hell have worked for a better society for the people of Bosnia and for others in the former Yugoslavia. We applaud all the United Nations troops, but we shall be forgiven for applauding our own in particular, not least on this day when we remember acts of particular heroism by soldiers in those most difficult conditions.
However, in the face of repeated and evil aggression the overall response of our Government and of the west as a whole has consisted essentially of huffing and puffing that has added little or nothing to the policy of trying to combat aggression by the Serbs. At great expense, NATO planes fly over the former Yugoslavia monitoring, patrolling and working out where the Serbian guns are, in order to report to New York.
Similarly, the United Nations monitoring officers often operate in the most hazardous of areas. I pay tribute to them, too, as my colleagues and I met two of them doing their most important work in Pale at the end of 1993. They count the shells out in great detail, and estimate from whence they are coming and where in Sarajevo or anywhere else they are landing. Again, reports are filed with their seniors, notably the United Nations in New York. However, that usually leads to nothing.
That brings me to the reluctance to use air strikes. I believe that the British Government in particular, have placed the brake on the use of air strikes. At different times when the United States Government clearly wished to take a firmer approach to the conflict in Bosnia and to stand up to the aggression by the Serbian regime of Dr. Karadzic, British Ministers said no, and urged caution.
The history books will show that the west's overall response has been poor, but the role of the British Government will stand to be especially condemned. In recent years the Serbs have tested, prodded and then understood the feebleness of the west's response. Sadly, every time Ministers from the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have stood up in the 637 House to comment on the situation, when the speeches have been analysed they have served as a green light for further Serbian aggression.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned the recent tragedy in a suburb of Sarajevo, in which innocent citizens were killed. Despite the pleading of the general who should have been in charge, senior United Nations officials said, "No, not even on this occasion will we use the sanction of air strikes." Even now the House and the Government could show some resolution. Especially when military commanders ask for them, we must allow the use of air strikes, not least for the protection of safe havens. Others have argued with great authority why we should do that, and I add my voice to theirs.
We have heard little on the subject from Ministers recently, but we need a vigorous and rigorous pursuit of the war criminals. One should not have to say that 50 years after 1945, when Britain was soon to see the Nuremberg trials. There are war criminals. We are talking about mass rapes, genocide and ethnic cleansing. Who are the criminals? They are the soldiers on the ground, but who gave them their orders? Are those people being pursued? At long last there are signs of the United Nations pursuing war criminals. Does the pursuit of war crimes have the full support—including financial support—of the British Government?
Will the Secretary of State for Defence say something about war criminals and their pursuit when he replies to the debate? Will he touch on the difficulties faced by some senior British UN officials in their daily contact with Dr. Karadzic, when they know—and we know—that they are dealing with a war criminal who one day may have to appear before the world's court?
That brings us back to our celebration of victory in Europe 50 years ago. There have been celebrations and acts of sad remembrance, but learning the full lessons of 50 years ago involves more than celebration and humming along to well-known old songs. We must relearn the lessons of 1945 in a more complex post-war period.
Bosnia is a proud and democratic cosmopolitan society, particularly Sarajevo, which I visited for three days at the end of 1993. It is a proud and democratic city. The fact that it is still being shelled mocks our pretensions of celebrating VE day and challenges our post-war hopes.
In the face of genocide more than 50 years after the holocaust, our Foreign Office policy has never dared speak its name. British foreign policy has once again been one of appeasement. Once, 55 years ago, appeasement was thrown out by our nation and our House of Commons in favour of action, and hand wringing was eventually rejected to make room for resolution. All these years later, that may he the most valuable lesson to learn from our history—the lesson that appeasement never pays and that firm action must be supported.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
In 1987, I visited the museum of the young Bosnians in Sarajevo. On the pavement just outside are, allegedly, the footprints showing from where the shots were fired to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand, which started world war one.
I was taken round the museum with a tourist group by a young woman of 19 or 20 who was extolling the great attributes and virtues of the great Serbian patriots. I asked 638 her, "Are you a communist?" and she said that she was. I said, "If you are a communist, I cannot understand why you are extolling an individual act of terrorism. I thought that Lenin was against terrorism of that kind." But she said, "No. They were great Serb nationalists and partisan heroes." I said, "But the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand led to a war in which tens of millions of people were killed, and that in turn led to another world war in which tens of millions of people died." She replied, "What is the death of millions of people compared with the freedom of a nation?" That was 1987, and it was the voice of a young, intelligent, English-speaking Serbian communist woman.
I suspect that, in similar conversations, such statements could have been made by Croats or members of other national groups in the former Yugoslavia. When I hear talk of appeasement and simple solutions, my mind goes back to that conversation. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia is far more complex, difficult and tragic and any simple solution from outside is unlikely to produce a result.
It was noticeable that the VE day celebrations in Britain were attended by the President of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the President of the Republic of Croatia, the President of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the President of the Republic of Slovenia, yet there was no one representing one third of the population of the former Yugoslavia in Krajina, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro or Serbia. That is ironic since the anniversary of the liberation of the Jasenovac concentration camp took place only a few days ago.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) gave a detailed historical description of the mistakes that have been made, which I shall not repeat, but at the risk of being labelled an appeaser or pro-Serb, which seems to be a term of insult used to describe those of us who say that the situation is complex and that we should consider it in its historical context, I want to say a few more things about what has happened in Croatia and the former Yugoslavia generally.
First, we must recognise that Yugoslavia is a 20th-century state established at the end of world war 1 to bring together Roman Catholic Croats, Muslims in Bosnia and elsewhere in what is now called Kosovo and the Orthodox Serbs who are found in different parts of the former Yugoslavia.
When the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, they completely crushed the Serbs, but they set up an independent state of Croatia, including what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, under the Ustashi leader, Ante Pavelic. The Ustashi had a clear policy on the 2 million Orthodox Serbs in their state—convert a third, expel a third and kill a third. That was done systematically.
Between April and July 1941, the Ustashi converted, expelled and, above all, murdered hundreds of thousands of people, not just Serbs, but Jews and gipsies as well, cruelly, viciously and systematically.
In the summer of 1941, the Ustashi set up a chain of 20 concentration camps which were later used to expedite Hitler's final solution. The largest of those camps, Jasenovac, had a regular occupancy of between 3,000 and 6,000 inmates from autumn 1941 until May 1945. Few people sent to that concentration camp lived longer than three months. According to camp rules, if they lived that long, they were executed anyway. In that period, it is 639 estimated that some 70,000 people perished in the camp, which is in the area that has just been liberated from the Serb population of Krajina by the Tudjman regime.
Reference has already been made to the former second lieutenant, Dinko Sakic, the final commander of that camp. From April 1945 onwards, the Ustashi guards at Jasenovac toiled day and night to slaughter those still surviving—Serbs, Jews and gipsies. They did so under the control of Dinko Sakic. The killing stopped on 2 May 1945 only when Tito's partisans finally liberated the area.
Anybody who is thinking and talking about events of the past week in Croatia has to understand that context. When we hear talk of appeasement, we must understand that history and that it is a little simple to associate the partisan-led, communist-led, predominantly Serb partisan forces and their successors with the Ustashi fascists of that period in quite such a glib way.
I shall make two more points. The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) made what I thought was a very intelligent speech describing the difficulties of the military situation in the former Yugoslavia. He made a number of pertinent suggestions. I draw attention to the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, "The Expanding Role of the United Nations and its Implications for United Kingdom Policy", published on 23 June 1993. Recommendations 13 and 14 state:We consider that calls for military deployment on the ground to enforce in Bosnia a disputed peace plan have been misconceived: troops equipped for peace-keeping or humanitarian protection work cannot be transformed into a UN fighting force simply by passing a new Security Council resolution.It continued:We are not persuaded that it is practicable to try to impose a peace plan in Bosnia from outside. We fear that attempting so to impose a plan for the constitutional structure of part of former Yugoslavia could make things worse rather than better for the civilian population, as well as having serious consequences for the safety of UN personnel there, which includes a large British contingent".Those words were right then and they remain right.
It is important that we recognise the limitations under which the UN mandate and the UN forces have been operating in recent years. It is regrettable that when the Security Council has met to try to find political fudges to deal with irreconcilable national differences between simplistic positions pushed in Washington and more realistic assessments put forward in Europe, it has made unworkable and unenforceable proposals that have led to great difficulties for the people on the ground who have to try to deal with the situation.
We must learn from the experience of peacekeeping not only in former Yugoslavia but elsewhere. One cannot expect the United Nations forces on the ground, the blue helmets, to solve intractable, religious, ethnic and political conflicts in states or between states. Those problems are deep-seated, complex and require serious, long-term solutions. The quick-fix approach so favoured in Washington and, unfortunately, supported by some hon. Members, will make matters far worse.
The Foreign Secretary seemed to be talking about conditions under which withdrawal might be necessary. He said that if the arms embargo were lifted, we would need to withdraw. He then admitted, as have others, that, in fact, the arms embargo is not really working anyway. 640 He said that if the fighting flared up—it has flared up and it is flaring up—or if there were no signs of an effective peace process, we would need to withdraw. Given the attitude of the Bosnian Government, who clearly are not interested in a peace settlement on available terms and have used the ceasefire to rearm, re-equip and redeploy their forces, the attitude of the Bosnian Serbs, who clearly are not interested in a peace settlement, and the attitude now of the Croatian Government and their supporters in Bosnia, it is realistic to say that there is no sign of an effective peace process.
If we are serious about withdrawal, we must consider how long it would take. If it becomes necessary—and I think it will—we must think about when it will be carried out. This is May, and if withdrawal takes six months, we need to think about the onset of winter. The forces have been there through two winters in difficult conditions. It is a terrible thing to say, but perhaps we have been lucky that casualties have been so low. We should think of what withdrawal would be like in a third winter, when the conflict might be much greater. Perhaps we cannot get the forces out, but what is the point of their staying if they cannot do the job that they are there to do?
I do not normally feel sorry for the Foreign Secretary but I have enormous sympathy for him because of the dilemma in which he finds himself, and I admire the way in which he put it. We are in an impossible situation, and we have to convince the British people of that because talk of appeasement, winning for one side and of the balance of force shifting is not the right approach. We must soon come to the view that we cannot go on any longer. We must recognise that there is a limit to how long we can simply sit ineffectively hoping for something to turn up.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
The debate has been well informed, and a great many hon. Members have taken part. It has been characterised by the deep sincerity of every hon. Member who spoke. They all expressed their views with deep conviction. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) admitted that he was pessimistic, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) also ended on a pessimistic note.
The views that were expressed in the debate have not followed the traditional Government-Opposition line. The views of some Conservative Members were identical to those of some of my hon. Friends, but the House is none the poorer for that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South gave us a telling, chilling reminder of what is happening in that piece of land that is called Croatia in the former Yugoslavia. My hon. Friend has had much experience over the years in international matters, and as he was also the last Back-Bench Member to speak in the debate, what he said makes a deeper impression because it is fresh in our minds.
By contrast, my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) spoke with optimism about some of his experiences in Sarajevo, and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) also had a different view and a different interpretation. The House benefits from such views.
This is one of a series of debates. Over the past three years, I think that I have attended all the debates on Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. I have heard people 641 hone their arguments, and I have perhaps detected a greater tolerance between hon. Members with different views. I have seen the House wrestle to try to decide the most propitious role for Britain and the United Nations in trying to avert an all-out war in the Balkans. On some occasions hon. Members have described the policy as one of containment, and I do not think that that is bad.
I remember in the early days arguing from the Opposition side of the House that there should be early pre-positioning and deployment of troops in Macedonia. That is something that my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) and the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) know a great deal about. That was a wise argument. We were so pleased that the Government, and later the international community, accepted that approach, and we have at least contained the problem in Macedonia.
Vigilance is always necessary. We must always be careful and we can never be complacent, but, so far, all-out war in the Balkans, which was so widely predicted three years ago, has not occurred. Having said that, we are all aware that an unhappy state and society exists in former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Croatia.
As several hon. Members have mentioned, it is poignant that we are discussing military matters on the day after all of us, I think, have been involved in our own VE day celebrations. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) made a great point of that. Coming from the base and constituency that he represents, that is not a surprise.
I think all 13 hon. Members who have spoken have paid tribute to the professionalism of British troops. It is timely that today we read the official notices in the newspapers that 41 members of our armed forces have been honoured for their services and bravery in former Yugoslavia. Congratulations go to them all from every hon. Member.
Just to make a point, I should like to mention some of the people honoured. It would be singularly appropriate to mention Corporal Wayne Mills, who was awarded the first conspicuous gallantry cross. Members will know that that is the highest award after the Victoria cross. He is a brave individual.
I am prepared to pay great tribute to General Sir Michael Rose. He has served this country well. He served 12 months in his office, and not many of his predecessors were able to stick the post for that period. It is virtually an impossible job, but he stuck to it and I am sure that he was as robust with Salidic, Izetbegovic and Karadzic as he was with my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). General Rose told me about his robust and, I think, two-sided exchange with my hon. Friend. It was right that a debate took place, and it is healthy that politicians and senior military people have such a frank exchange of views.
Time and again, Lieutenant-Colonel David Santa-Olalla of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment showed his bravery and the strength of British officers by leading by example. His citation refers to his work in Gorazde. Having been to that enclave, I pay tribute to him. Those two officers received the distinguished service order.
Military crosses were won by Corporal Andrew Rainey and Sergeant Gary Cryer. It is important to mention non-commissioned officers. The great strength of the British Army and all armed forces lies in their NCOs. They go out with small detachments and, especially in 642 former Yugoslavia, they have immense responsibility. They must take the decisions to interpret the rules of engagement. They are provoked almost beyond their wisdom, yet they manage, because of their training and discipline, to resist the temptation.
Largely through their experiences in Northern Ireland, where similar types of command and control operations exist, the NCOs of our British forces are among the best in the world. Perhaps it is worth while to recall, as other hon. Members have reminded us, that that bravery is not without danger. We have lost 13 of our troops. If we think of it in a more general way, with our troops being part of a larger force, 162 young men have lost their lives, 162 families throughout the world have been bereaved, and 162 families obviously wonder whether the price was worth paying. Those are not easy judgments to reach.
Opposition Members have tried to support the Government's policy in Bosnia. At times we have been ahead of them, but we believe that, by and large, they have followed the correct line. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) suggested, we have been disappointed about the Government's commitment to war crime trials; we consider that very important, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will assure us that the Government are entirely committed to the exercise.
We have concentrated on Bosnia in our debates, but the events of the past week have again highlighted the problems in Croatia as a potential flashpoint in the wider war that may emerge in the Balkans. That may indeed be a danger: we shall have to watch the position carefully. We are all wondering what action to take against the Serbs for the breach of the UN's safe area mandate; meanwhile, I hope that every diplomatic effort is being made to point out to President Tudjman that he flagrantly invaded a UN-protected area of sector west. I do not think that that serious issue has been raised during this debate, or generally.
It is appropriate that both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence are involved in the debate, and highly appropriate for it to have been opened by the Foreign Secretary. That has served to emphasise what I regard as the cardinal point: ultimately, the problems in the Balkans can be resolved only through negotiation and diplomacy. I firmly believe that the country that we are discussing cannot be conquered by military means; we must have a diplomatic solution. That was at the core of the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who made some thoughtful and positive suggestions.
Having said that, let me add that Opposition Members take the view that, if threats are to be made, there will come a time when they must be backed up. It cannot be right for threats against the United Nations to be treated with impunity. We believe that, while air power alone solves little, there are occasions—as we have seen in the past—when its use gets the message across.
I want to probe the Foreign Secretary on that, because I felt that he was not as forthcoming as he might have been. It was reported in today's newspapers that General Rupert Smith had requested air power, but had been overruled. May I ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether that is true? If so, was he overruled by Mr. Akashi or by his superior officer, General Bernard 643 Janvier? It is important for the House to know whether the decision was made for diplomatic, political reasons, or for very good military reasons.
During the debate, it was argued that this was not a peacekeeping mission. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) referred to a document entitled "Wider Peacekeeping", which has just been published by the British Army—a very good document, which the hon. Gentleman has clearly had time to examine. That manual differentiates between peacekeeping, wider peacekeeping and peace enforcement. It has been widely acclaimed, and I know that it is highly regarded in the United Nations. The publication gives interesting definitions for those three terms:In peacekeeping the performer carries only a balancing pole and there is a hushed and respectful silence in the crowd as the performer walks the tightrope.In wider peacekeeping, the performer carries the same balancing pole, and walks the identical tightrope:He also has the general consent of the parties to the conflict. However, on this occasion it is apparent that not everyone approves of his performance and the circus audience is restive and noisy. Some individuals are even throwing missiles at the tightrope walker as he makes his journey.That graphically makes the point that in Bosnia, we are playing a wider peacekeeping role. It is important that we understand that point, and it is clear that British troops already do so. Corporal Mills, whose award of the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross was announced today, said:Working for the United Nations in Bosnia is an extremely difficult job. You are not there to fight a war. Your aim is to ensure that the food and other supplies get through to the Bosnian population—the victims of the war.You never know when one of the warring factions is going to take a dislike to the UN and start taking pot shots. You have to be prepared for it and respond to the situations as they occur.Corporal Mills puts in clear terms Britain's mandate in Bosnia. It is incumbent on us all to make it clear to our constituents that restricted mandate and the fact that we do not have a peace enforcement role. Our role is to get the humanitarian aid through, and we have been most successful in that. As long as British troops can continue to do that, we ought to support them.
The Secretary-General of the UN requested reinforcements. I was pleased in January to hear the Secretary of State for Defence announce that the Government intended to dispatch another three Chinook, six Lynx and six Gazelle helicopters. Why are we waiting? What have no Chinook or Gazelle helicopters been delivered and only four of the six Lynx helicopters been delivered? There may be good reasons, but the House has a right to know them.
Will the Secretary of State for Defence clarify the Government's position on the arms embargo? On 31 July 1994, the Secretary of State—after stoutly maintaining opposition to any lifting of the embargo because it would put our ground troops at unnecessary risk—announced that Britain no longer opposed the lifting of the embargo. On 21 November, the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) was much more robust:We judge that the lifting of the arms embargo would lead to an intensified conflict with severe risks that UNPROFOR would be caught up in the fighting and lose its impartiality in the eyes of the warring factions. In such circumstances, UNPROFOR could no longer carry out the UN mandate and would have to withdraw.644 I understand that, and I also heard the Foreign Secretary speak only last week about the need to withdraw UNPROFOR if the arms embargo was to be lifted. We know the consequences of lifting the embargo, but what is Government policy on that specific point?
I make one further point about the withdrawal of UN troops. I understand that it is very important to provide confidence in our ability to get the troops out if necessary. If we can get that confidence across, there is every reason to believe that the nations that have troops there will have the confidence to keep them there. It is a vital point.
I know that an international exercise has just finished, and that the Ministry of Defence and NATO are evaluating its results. I do not want press the Minister too hard on Operation Arcade Guard, but I want to press him on a couple of other points.
In the worst case scenario, if we and the rest of UNPROFOR have to withdraw our troops, we know, as has been said in the House today, that it may require up to 50,000 troops. The Americans are, I think, going to provide about half of those.
We are concerned about the different lengths of time that it has been suggested might be needed to withdraw. It has been suggested that withdrawal might take up to six months. Another suggestion is that it could be completed in six weeks. The shorter the period, the better the prospects for getting the troops out, if necessary. Can the Secretary of State for Defence assure us that everything is being done to facilitate the shortest period for extracting the troops?
Other hon. Members have raised this critical point, but I take it that it is absolutely certain that NATO will have the command and control of the troop extraction. I think that the whole House would be happier if that was the case. Perhaps the Secretary of State for Defence could say a word about the attitude of French Government on that point, because we understand that they have slight difficulties—theological difficulties, almost—with that command and control system.
The situation is Bosnia is very complicated. If it had been easy, we all know that the problem would have been solved. But the problem is there, and is not going to go away. The role of the UN has not always been understood, so the role of UNPROFOR and our troops has not always been understood.
We believe that our troops and UNPROFOR have been doing sterling work. We believe that they have kept alive tens of thousands of people, and that they are giving us the breathing space during which we can pursue diplomatic solutions. We equally accept that there may come a time when the risks to our troops are so great that we cannot justify them being there. If we can keep our troops there, and if they can continue doing a worthwhile job, the Government will have our support, as do the troops.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
It has been a feature of virtually all the speeches that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House to pay tribute to the courage and great skill with which our troops are carrying out their responsibilities in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. I do not lightly thank hon. Members for making such remarks because it is of very real importance to the morale of our forces in Bosnia and elsewhere to know that they have the unqualified 645 admiration and support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. That is something for which we can genuinely give thanks.
There has been an understandable and inevitable comparison or juxtaposition of the victory in Europe ceremonies and commemorations over the past few days with the fact that Europe is experiencing one of the most savage and traumatic wars within a state of Europe since the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.
There is a tendency in some quarters to suggest that somehow the responsibility for the sheer savagery and atrocity that we have seen in the former Yugoslavia has to be shared by the west as a whole or by the United Nations or by NATO. I understand the emotions that give rise to such comments, but I believe that it is crucial to emphasise that the responsibility for what happens in former Yugoslavia is to be found overwhelmingly with those within former Yugoslavia who have initiated the conflict. I sometimes hear suggestions that the conflict would have been avoided if only the west had done this or that or NATO had initiated this policy rather than that policy. I do not believe that such views are grounded in a credible explanation or analysis of the problem.
We are all well aware that, for a good number of years, former Yugoslavia was slowly but almost inevitably disintegrating. The forces that might have prevented that could have come only from within former Yugoslavia, not from outside. We know that, once Slovenia had declared its independence and Croatia had broken away, whatever the diplomacy of Germany or the European Union or whatever the views of the UN or NATO, the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina could have escaped the consequences of the disintegration of Yugoslavia is not a correct analysis. In reaching a judgment about the success or failure of the UN and other forces that have been active there, one must bear that fact in mind.
Let me examine for a moment the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Sir. P. Cormack), that, in a fundamental way, the UN has failed in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Of course I accept that, if one measures success or failure by our aspirations, clearly the UN can be said to have failed. However, compared with all historical precedents by international organisations, a far more powerful case can be made that the UN, while not realising its full aspirations, has achieved more in Bosnia than in almost any previous operation either by the UN or by the League of Nations before it. One has only to go back to the previous great war within Europe, the Spanish civil war, to see that the League of Nations was unable to make even the most minor impact of a humanitarian kind and how the great powers adopted their clients and provided arms and in no way sought to dampen the conflict in that savage period.
That must be compared with what has been achieved over the past three years by British and other forces of the UN. It can be compared with what has happened in Angola, Cambodia or Somalia—other wars which are not dissimilar and where people have slaughtered each other in hundreds of thousands or, in the case of Cambodia, in millions. In those cases the UN could begin to be involved only once a ceasefire had been agreed. Only after a ceasefire was agreed in Cambodia, after many years of senseless slaughter, did the UN send forces for the first time. After 15 years of bloody civil war in Angola, it is 646 only in the past few weeks, again when a political ceasefire has been agreed by the competing armies, that the UN has felt able to intervene.
We can compare all those facts with what has been achieved so far by the UN in Bosnia. In the past three years, as hon. Members have pointed out, many tens of thousands of lives have been saved. Many people would have been slaughtered in the conflict or would have died from starvation or from a lack of medical supplies. In addition, we should remember the not unreasonable forecast of three years ago, that, if we did not take the necessary steps, it would be a conflict not just in Bosnia but would spread to Macedonia, Kosovo and throughout the Balkans. That could still happen, but the fact that it has not happened yet is in no small measure due to the achievements of the United Nations in providing a focus for stability in Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
Nobody—my right hon. and learned Friend has acknowledged this—disputes for a moment the wonderful work of the British and other troops working for UNPROFOR. However, to suggest that this is analogous to civil wars in Africa is not correct. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) and the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) have all said, this is not a civil war in the accepted sense of that phrase. It began as a war of aggression, with Serbia determined to create a greater Serbia.
§ Mr. Rifkind
While I was going to deal with that point later, I shall deal with it now in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South. I hope that we will not get into too much of a terminological debate about whether the phrase "civil war" does or does not describe exactly what is happening within Bosnia. There is not much disagreement between the different points of view. We all acknowledge that President Milosevic and Serbia bear more responsibility than anyone else for the initiation of the conflict.
We also all accept that probably 95 per cent. of those doing the fighting in Bosnia are Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims. There are no foreign armies in Bosnia, and Bosnia has not been invaded by another state. There is much external interference, but that is not a feature unique to this particular conflict. While my hon. Friend was right in saying that the various communities within Bosnia lived in peace and harmony with each other for many years, it is also true—as has been mentioned by a number of speakers—that Yugoslavia in general, and Bosnia in particular, has in the past experienced more bloody civil war, butchery and slaughter from all sides than almost any other part of Europe.
My hon. Friend must only look at the memoirs of that gallant soldier Sir Fitzroy Maclean, who, when he was sent to Yugoslavia during the war, recorded his instructions from Churchill as being to make contact with the various resistance groups and to identify and advise the British Government which of those groups was spending more time trying to kill Nazis than each other. As he concluded that Tito's partisans on balance—it was only on balance—were spending more time attacking the Nazis, the United Kingdom and our allies chose to give support to that group. There is a history which we cannot ignore, and there has been great internecine hatred in Bosnia.
647 The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) made a number of comments, some of which I agree with. He rightly emphasised the. great importance of the UN and the international community not making threats which they are not prepared to carry out. I freely acknowledge—the British Government have emphasised this point on many occasions—that one of the great factors in this issue is the tendency of international organisations and politicians of all persuasions and from all parts of the world to declare that certain things are unacceptable and that certain matters will not be tolerated when it is clear that none of the Governments concerned, or the international community as a whole, intends doing the minimum necessary to give credence to those threats. I accept that there must be a link between the language we use and the action that we are prepared to take.
With regard to the use of air power within Bosnia, the UN and NATO have shown on several occasions their willingness to use such power in appropriate circumstances. Questions were raised regarding the response of the UN to the mortar attacks on Sarajevo in the past couple of days. I am not at liberty to speculate as to what detailed discussions might have taken place within the UN, but I agree with the hon. Member for Livingston that we must allow the UN's own chain of command to come to a judgment as to whether to ask NATO for military action in the specific case.
I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman's remark that it is highly damaging to the authority and credibility of UN if evidence of internal disagreements within that chain of command become known. The matters should of course be discussed, but we believe that differences of opinion within the UN should be kept as matters to be resolved and presented to NATO and the international community in the manner suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
I refer to the remarks made about the implications for the NATO alliance of the strains and pressures which have developed between NATO and the UN in the past couple of years. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) pointed to the problems which have arisen as a result of the dual key, and the need for both the UN and NATO to agree before military action is taken.
It is perhaps inappropriate to say that the dual-key arrangements are the cause of the tension. They are the consequence, not the cause, of the phenomenon that, while the UN troop contributors are on the ground, the United States has been solely concerned with the use of air power. The need has arisen, therefore, for as long as that remains the case, for both ground and air commanders to be in agreement before military action is taken, or there will be grave danger to the lives and safety of forces on the ground.
It is precisely because the United States has agreed, in the event of any need to withdraw from Bosnia, to contribute substantial ground forces in addition to those being provided by the present troop contributors, that the problem of dual key will not arise with regard to NATO action that might be needed in the event of a withdrawal—NATO would be invited to supervise such a withdrawal. Clearly, if the United States, as well as western European 648 and other countries, is on the ground with significant forces, it is right and proper that command and control can be concentrated in single hands.
§ Mr. Macdonald
Will the Secretary of State say something about the suggestion that British forces will be withdrawing from Gorazde, bearing in mind what happened in Bihac when the French forces withdrew and were replaced by a wholly inadequate force? Can he assure us that British forces will not be withdrawn until he is confident that they will be replaced by a force that is at least as competent?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am answering the hon. Gentleman.
Within Bosnia, how the UN uses the forces supplied by the various countries is primarily a matter for the UN commander. It is right and proper that the principle of rotation should apply, and we have expressed that view publicly as well as privately. One should not expect one country—whether Britain, France or wherever—to carry out one role, in an exposed way, over a prolonged period. Those matters are under discussion and no final decisions have been reached. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs emphasised earlier, the United Nations does not believe in the principle of unilateral action to withdraw troops from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that will continue to be our policy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) made some pertinent remarks about Macedonia, and I pay tribute to the responsible way in which the Government of that country have acted to try to ensure a continuation of stability in that locality. He raised one or two technical matters and there will, perhaps, be a letter on its way to him to deal with those matters for which I do not have direct responsibility.
On the basic question of whether the United Nations should stay in Bosnia-Herzegovina, or whether the case for withdrawal has changed significantly in recent times, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) suggested that perhaps the time had come for those forces to be phased out. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), in a speech to which I listened with great care, emphasised that forces could well be stuck there for up to 10 years before the war came to a conclusion.
We have emphasised that the presence of British forces in Bosnia should be based, first, on whether they can carry out the mandate that they have been given and, secondly, on whether they can do so without undue risk to themselves. When considering the arguments for and against their presence or withdrawal, let us also consider for a moment the advantages of withdrawals.
Clearly, the first would be the ending of risk to the lives and safety of British and other UN forces. Secondly, there is an argument that that presence has become pointless and that they are not achieving anything, or not sufficient to justify their continuing presence in the country. Thirdly, there is an argument—it was not heard much today, but it is raised occasionally—that the presence of the United Nations may prevent the 649 conclusion of the conflicts by creating a rigid situation that prevents either side from enforcing a military solution.
I understand those arguments. Like all such arguments, there is some truth in them all, but I must point out to the House the opposite point of view and the disadvantages that would flow from a premature withdrawal. We must contemplate what would happen if not just the United Kingdom but the United Nations withdrew from Bosnia, and see whether we are prepared to live with those consequences.
We must assume that the immediate impact would be the overrunning of the enclaves, not just of Gorazde, Tuzla or Srebrenica but of Sarajevo itself. Those would be difficult to defend because, even in the immediate aftermath of a withdrawal, the Bosnian Government would not have received any additional military hardware of a substantial kind in a time scale that would be likely to be decisive for that purpose. So enclaves controlled by the Bosnian Government would be immediately snuffed out.
Secondly, one must envisage the implications of the inevitable raising of the arms embargo in the event of a UN withdrawal. Do we wish to encourage that to be brought about, with the flooding of arms into Bosnia? Although arms have been getting to the Bosnian Government forces, they have certainly not included heavy artillery and weaponry which would be a consequence of the lifting of the embargo.
Another factor is whether we are simply contemplating withdrawal from Bosnia-Herzegovina and assuming that, somehow, the United Nations could continue in Macedonia and Croatia. That is a highly improbable scenario. We must accept that, if there were a withdrawal from Bosnia, it would have to be part of a wider withdrawal from the whole of former Yugoslavia, with all the consequences that could flow from that for Macedonia, Croatia and other parts of the region.
Finally, we must consider the implications for Kosovo, an area that has been extremely tense for a number of years, with a 90 per cent. Muslim population within an area controlled from Belgrade, which we know could at any time erupt into serious conflict.
Against that background, the other question that I would ask the House to consider, and which the British Government certainly consider as of great significance, is whether we can say at this stage that we must write off any prospect of a political settlement and that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford predicted, the war will simply drag on month after month, year after year, for the indefinite future. It may be unwise to make that judgment at this stage.
As a number of hon. Members said, the ceasefire progressed during the winter months when one would not expect much military conflict and, as spring approached, so the fighting resumed. It is worth remembering, however, that fighting has not resumed throughout Bosnia and is still extremely limited.
650 Like many hon. Members who have visited Bosnia, each time that I have been in that country over the past three years, I have experienced a further extension of the area that is slowing returning to normality. A year and a half ago, one saw not just conflict between Serbs and Bosnian Government forces but an equally savage civil war between Croats and Muslims in central Bosnia. Now, the area of the country where British troops are most concentrated is overwhelmingly peaceful.
It will not necessarily remain so, but, for the past year, when one has travelled from Croat to Muslim area, one has not even seen military patrols on the borderline between Croat and Muslim communities, as was the feature of the countryside even 12 months ago.
Although British forces in Gorazde are in an area of great tension, the vast majority are carrying out crucial tasks in a large part of Bosnia that has seen no conflict for a year or 18 months but which would have to anticipate a dramatic and devastating return to conflict if the UN pulled out and thereby created or precipitated a very serious vacuum of power.
Obviously, withdrawal may become necessary. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House clearly, we cannot afford to contemplate a situation in which our troops cannot carry out the tasks imposed on them, and in which they are used as a target by any of the competing factions. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South objects to the word "faction", but, whatever word one uses, all the separate groups within Bosnia have seen the United Nations as a legitimate target on certain occasions. That would be intolerable if it developed as some people predict.
The House has acknowledged the great gallantry of British troops in Bosnia. I thank the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) for the justified remarks that he made about several of the individual soldiers serving in Bosnia, especially the gallant colonel who has been the first recipient of the conspicuous gallantry cross, a new recognition of a very—[HON. MEMBERS: "Corporal."] I am sorry; I thank the House for that correction. It would no doubt be deserved, but the citation for that gallant soldier fully recognises the dangers confronted by British and other UN troops in the most difficult of circumstances.
The conclusion of the Government—and I suspect of the whole House—at this moment is that the United Nations presence in Bosnia continues to be justified. Although the work being done is difficult and often receives precious little thanks—including from those who benefit from it—we can nevertheless take great pride in it. I pay tribute to those who have made it possible.