HL Deb 14 February 1994 vol 552 cc26-79

4.6 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey) rose to move, That this House takes note of the situation in Bosnia.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to discuss the continuing conflict in. Bosnia, as well as the response of this country and the international community in our efforts to bring about peace. On 10th February, I repeated to your Lordships the Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on the decisions of the North Atlantic Council meeting on 9th February. I shall return later to those decisions.

First, I should like to stand back from the daily rush of events and attempt to set this conflict and our response to it in a wider context. There is no doubt that the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia were started by Serb aggression, and the Serbs have been the worst aggressors throughout. But all sides have committed terrible acts. The inescapable fact is that the conflict is now a three-sided civil war: Serbs fight Moslems in and around Sarajevo; in central Bosnia Moslems fight Croats; in the Croatian Krajinas Croats confront Serbs in an uneasy truce; and in Bihac, Moslems fight Moslems.

It is for historians to decide how and why that should have happened. Our concerns must be and are what we can do for the future. What we cannot do is to end a civil war by outside intervention. We can put pressure on the parties to comply with UN resolutions, as we are doing in Sarajevo, Srebrenica and Tuzla. But we cannot stop the fighting when the parties wish to fight on.

What we can do, and have done is threefold. First, we can attempt to stop the conflict from spreading into neighbouring states. Much has already been done. Perhaps the most volatile neighbouring state is Macedonia. There American and Nordic troops are engaged in a unique UN exercise in preventive diplomacy. We too have played our part, taking the lead in establishing diplomatic relations and giving over £ 2 million in emergency humanitarian aid. I am pleased to be able to tell your Lordships that I am now able to make another £ 2 million available for Macedonia, which is facing great deprivations and which needs our help. That is part of our preventive action in that country.

Secondly, we can and do support the peace process. The only way to end the killing is a negotiated settlement accepted by all the parties. Some people have taken pleasure in decrying the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and Mr. Stoltenberg. But they have achieved a great deal, working under pressures that few could have tolerated. They continue to enjoy the full support of the Government and of the European Union.

Thirdly, we can and do make a contribution to the humanitarian effort. In fact, Britain has done more than that. We have played a role which is second to none. British teams, escorted by British troops, have delivered over 63,000 tonnes of aid in 801 convoys. As I speak, an ODA convoy, carrying 120 tonnes of wheatflour and beans, is struggling through heavy snow from Tomislavgrad to Zenica— the first on that route since last week. However, I regret to say that I have just heard that that convoy has been looted by demonstrators in Gornji-Vakuf. Fortunately, no one was injured and much of the aid remains. But such events are almost a daily occurrence. They serve only to remind us just how hazardous is the situation.

I should like to say a word about those involved. The brutal killing of Paul Goodall shows the dangers that our aid experts face. The British troops not only escort convoys, they also negotiate with local warlords. They defuse bombs and mines. The very roads some convoys pass over have been built by our Royal Engineers. They have rescued civilians caught up in the fighting. On occasion it was the sheer presence of a British "Warrior" that deterred one side or the other from further atrocities. We can, and should, be justly proud of our aid workers and soldiers.

Your Lordships are aware that the Government are reviewing the future of our troops in Bosnia. No final decision has been taken, and there are many factors. But I assure your Lordships that we shall take full account of the vital work that they are doing, as well as the risks that they all face.

Again, some people seek to demean the aid effort by suggesting that we use it as a pretext to avoid military intervention. That charge in unworthy. Military intervention would not achieve the very humanitarian objectives that our aid does. That is why we went there. Many thousands of people are alive today who otherwise would have died.

The humanitarian situation has not stolen the headlines this winter with the appalling scenes that many of us feared. Across the country as a whole, thanks to the enormous international effort, the picture is better than we dared to hope. But the situation is still critical, and in some places desperate. We must continue our efforts with UNHCR to avoid a humanitarian disaster in the prevailing winter conditions.

I shall attempt later to give your Lordships a fuller picture of some of the humanitarian situations in Bosnia. However, I hope, first, that noble Lords will allow me to return to the negotiations on a settlement. I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Richard.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am much obliged. There is, perhaps, a certain confusion about our aid effort at present. Is it or is it not suspended? If it is suspended, can the Minister say where it has been suspended?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right to ask me to expand on the matter. Temporarily, last week, we suspended the aid effort for two reasons. First, we did so as a mark of respect for Paul Goodall on the day of his funeral, which was also the day of the NATO meeting. We considered that it was most definitely sensible to see how the next few days went after the NATO meeting. Secondly, there was the problem, to which I shall return in a moment, in Gornji-Vakuf, where three aid workers had been detained. We were also looking for the best way to move forward in the new situation.

We got ready over the weekend and started to move yesterday up to Tomislavgrad. This morning, we started from Tomislavgrad. The suspension was a temporary one. That is all we intended it to be. We shall only move — and we have had many temporary suspensions before — when it is safe to do so. That is a joint decision between the convoy drivers, and particularly with UNPROFOR. As I said, there have been many temporary suspensions and this was not the only one. However, as I said, there was a double reason for that particular suspension.

I should now like to turn to the peace process. The main obstacle to agreement is territory. The parties all accept the broad outline of a territorial settlement in which the Moslems would have at least one-third of Bosnia's territory, and access to the sea. But the Bosnian Government are not satisfied with the quality of the territory so far on offer from the Serbs and Croats. The gap between the parties has been reduced to 15 towns, eight of which are disputed by Serbs and Moslems and the other seven by Serbs and Croats. The co-chairmen have suggested an international arbitration procedure to resolve each of the disputes, which the European Union fully supports.

Although limited progress was made, I regret to have to inform your Lordships that the latest round of talks in Geneva broke up on Saturday— again, without agreement. The Government believe that the differences are bridgeable, but only if all the parties really want to achieve it. I can all too readily understand that the terrible experiences of the past two years must have bred deep suspicions on all sides. But all parties must understand the futility of pursuing the military option.

Your Lordships will have seen the press reports from Sarajevo over the weekend. With great patience, the UN Commander in Sarajevo, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, has negotiated a cease-fire between the Bosnian Government and Serb forces. So far that has held. Some progress has also been made in placing heavy weapons under control. But there is far to go, and we must remain cautious. I am sure that your Lordships will join me in wishing General Rose and his colleagues well in their efforts.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the decisions by the North Atlantic Council on 9th February complement the efforts of General Rose. In the best case, such developments could lead to agreement between the parties on a real cessation of violence and demilitarisation of Sarajevo. But we have been disappointed before. The Bosnian Serbs should have no doubts: after 20th February any heavy weapons still in the 20 kilometre zone and not under UN control will be subject to air strikes.

The decisions on air strikes were not taken easily, or in isolation. I am all too aware of the risks that air strikes, and talk of air strikes, pose to the humanitarian effort and to those heroically struggling to get the aid through. Your Lordships will have seen reports that UNPROFOR is taking precautions to safeguard UN personnel, working closely with UNHCR. The safety of our troops and civilian workers is of paramount concern. I am confident that UNPROFOR's contingency plans are well prepared.

However, Sarajevo is not Bosnia. It is true that it receives much media coverage. Elsewhere the news is not so encouraging. As noble Lords may have heard, there has been renewed fighting around Gornji-Vakuf this weekend. The situation in Mostar and Bihac remains of great concern. Indeed, I have just given the House the news from Gomji-Vakuf this lunchtime.

It is a truism to say that Bosnia is a complex and difficult issue. But I firmly believe that it is not intractable. As I hope I have made clear, it is not in the hands of NATO, the UN or the EU to end the war. The primary responsibility for that must lie with those who are fighting it. But we can be much more than onlookers. We can give support to the negotiators, aid to the needy, and support our efforts with the forces at our disposal. We are doing all this, at considerable risk to our own people. I feel proud of their efforts and I hope that, before long, they will achieve the desired result: a peaceful settlement in Bosnia.

However, peace will only come when the fighting people in Bosnia decide that fighting is no longer worth while. It is the tragedy of Bosnia that they have not yet done so. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the situation in Bosnia. — (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey.)

4.20 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for taking the opportunity to outline the Government's view of the policy they have pursued over the years in former Yugoslavia. I associate myself with the tribute the noble Baroness paid to British troops and aid workers and to the efforts of General Sir Michael Rose. The argument she put forward suggests that the Government are trying to persuade us that they have pursued a consistent policy over the years, although I am sure they must recognise that that is riot how the policy is perceived. If they do not recognise that, they should simply read the article by Mr. Peter Riddell in The Times today.

What we have witnessed over the past couple of years is a painful and at times humiliating demonstration of the decline of British influence both as regards our European allies and as regards the United States of America. I have thought for many years that the term "special relationship" with the United States should be abandoned. In so far as it applies to the political field, it is in my view a self-delusion. It is a phrase one never hears in the United States in this context. Certainly, in the past few weeks or months there has been very little sign of it, either in the visit of Mr. Gerry Adams to New York or— more relevant to today's debate— in the Sarajevo ultimatum.

We have also seen in the political field— I am afraid we must confess this— a striking absence of British leadership. I must exclude from that the performance, as I said, of our troops and of our aid workers on the ground. On at least two critical occasions, however, we have had to bow to the pressure of others and to the persuasion of other countries against the judgment of the Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary. The first occasion was when we first resisted, but then submitted to, German pressure by recognising first Croatia and then Bosnia. I believe it is generally agreed that that 'was a mistake.

The second occasion was the decision taken last week at the NATO summit. It is no use pretending that the decision to issue what I can only call the Sarajevo ultimatum did not represent a sharp change in British policy. The Government have reiterated again and again over the past few months and years that this is primarily a civil war; that peace can only come by negotiation between the parties to the conflict; that we will offer our good offices to any negotiation; that we will offer humanitarian aid; and that the use of force jeopardise humanitarian aid and will carry other risks with it.

The noble Baroness said that we cannot end a civil war by outside intervention. I do not know what the Sarajevo ultimatum is if it is not outside intervention. I do not know what it seeks to achieve unless it is to hasten what is called the peace process. Nor is it any use pretending that the change was not a response to United States' pressure and the Foreign Secretary agreeing, not because he agreed with the policy, but because he believed that to hold out against it would have jeopardised the NATO alliance. He has never indicated that he agreed to the policy; he has indicated that he thought that if we did not go along with the policy we would jeopardise the NATO alliance.

What we have seen is this country reluctantly accepting a policy that was French in inspiration and backed by the United States in the last instance. As I said when the Statement was made last week, we on these Benches welcome the decision. We only wish it had been taken earlier. Having been taken so late, it will be much harder to carry out and the risks which it carries are much greater. Let no one suppose that those of us who support the decision under-estimate the risks. The risks are there, and they are stark. The Serbs may try to delay their withdrawal by one means or another. They may obstruct the flow of humanitarian aid. The Bosnians may try to use the ceasefire to improve their position. We do not know how effective air strikes will be. We must ask ourselves whether we are willing and able to deploy further troops if complications such as those I have mentioned demand it. Nor is it easy to foretell what the Russian reaction will be. We wish neither to supply Russian nationalists with political ammunition nor to submit to blackmail.

Those are some of the risks (and, of course, there are others) which this policy inevitably carries with it. However, we must remind ourselves of what has happened over the past few years in former Yugoslavia. We have to remind ourselves that over 2 million people have been driven from their homes, that 170,000 people have been killed and that in Sarajevo alone 10,500 people have died,2,400 of them children, while 57,000 people have been wounded. Beyond the human tragedy the dreams of a new world order which many of us had in 1989 have turned in this part of the world into nothing less than a nightmare. In addition the standing of the United Nations and the authority of NATO have been gravely undermined.

In Sarajevo the ultimatum, as the noble Baroness indicated, holds; but it is fragile. If it holds, and if the ceasefire holds, one small step in re-establishing the authority of the United Nations and of NATO will have been taken. However, I do not believe we can afford to stop there. As proposed by my right honourable friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats in another place many months ago, safe enclaves must be established elsewhere and guaranteed by the UN and NATO, above all at Tuzla where the airport must be re-opened. We have repeatedly pressed for this to happen. It is worth reminding ourselves that what has prevented it happening has been the objections of the Bosnian Serbs — a group of people who have absolutely no legal standing whatever in this matter.

Tuzla has problems which are different from those of Sarajevo but in some ways more acute. Oxfam told me today that only 15 per cent. of the food supplies required are getting through to Tuzla whereas 50 per cent. are getting through to Sarajevo. The price of an egg in Tuzla is the equivalent of £ 1 and the price of a kilo of coffee is the equivalent of £ 50. If Tuzla airport were re-opened, it would provide a safer means of getting humanitarian supplies and food supplies through to civilians of all communities in central and eastern Bosnia.

The pressure which has been mounted since last week must be maintained. Time is not on our side. Last week there was a call-up in Belgrade. Spring is round the corner and with it the possibility of a spring offensive by the Serbs, probably in collaboration with the Croats. I repeat that the noble Baroness has said we cannot stop a civil war by outside intervention. That is undeniably true. Nonetheless there are ways and means by which one can encourage negotiation and encourage those who are negotiating to come to a peaceful settlement. That is what I believe we should do, and that is what I think last week's ultimatum was the first step towards establishing.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I should like to start by associating myself, since I seem to be the first speaker from these Benches and may therefore speak for my colleagues, with what the noble Baroness has said of our recognition and thanks to our noble colleague, Lord Owen, and Mr. Stoltenberg and, before him, Mr. Vance, in their negotiating mission; to UNPROFOR as a whole and especially to the British contingent within it; and to the Sarajevo part of it under General Sir Michael Rose.

We are debating an intervention in a civil war in a newly independent state. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves — everybody knows it but it sets the background— who these people are. Some of the South Slays, which is what "Yugoslav" means in basic Slavonic, were Christianised from the West by Rome and consequently became Roman Catholics and wrote in Latin letters. Others were Christianised from the East by Constantinople and consequently became Orthodox and wrote in cyrillic letters. Very shortly there arose among these two a heresy— that of the Bogomiles, who had some very special and fascinating beliefs, setting them apart from all other Christians of any time, anywhere. I am talking now about the 8th and 9th centuries—

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? There is actually no record of any Bogomil heresy in that part of the world west of Macedonia or Bulgaria. According to the latest scholarship, it was in fact a rather odd form of Church which was re-colonised by the Franciscans just before the fall of the kingdom of Bosnia. So the Bogomil heresy is an outdated piece of information produced by a Hungarian in, I think,1860. I think the noble Lord may be wrong in his facts about that.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I can only say that I have read texts which have it otherwise, and put it much closer to what I have just said. In any case, my point is that this is like Ireland, only much much worse, because it has been going on three times as long and there are three parties instead of two. In any case, when the Turks arrived it was very largely heretics— whether correctly described as Bogomiles or not — who converted to Islam and thereby incurred the hatred and sometimes contempt of both Christian factions. All of them throughout spoke what is now called the Serbo-Croat langu age.

Those are the people we are talking about. We sometimes feel as though they must be of different nationalities, but it is not so. They have the same language; they share the same original stock and there are religious differences only, as in Ireland. That is, as I say, the background but something perfectly new has happened now. That is, that in this monstrous slaughter, which has gone on for so long and which horrifies us every time we think of it, we are going to kill some people for the first time: we too are going to kill some people. To justify that, one needs to be very sure that everything is being done correctly and that there is no alternative. That is what I want to talk about.

Let me remind your Lordships also of the diplomatic history during the last week or so. The Secretary-General of the United Nations wrote to the Secretary-General of NATO, asking NATO to authorise its military command to launch airstrikes on request from the United Nations forces in Bosnia. NATO agreed to do so and agreed also that UNPROFOR should determine which artillery and mortar emplacements were responsible for attacks on civilians. In other words, as General Sir Michael Rose was reported in the press as saying this morning, it is he who decides what should be shot at. It also appears, although I do not think it has been stated in Parliament, that the NATO command responsible is Southern Command. One of the things I ask the noble Baroness to tell us about later is this. Is that Command still, as it always has been in the past, headed by an American admiral in Naples? I assume that it is.

Last week's Statement made by the Government in this Parliament gave two reasons for our intervention. The first, in the order given, was that it would maintain the solidarity of NATO— not of the United Nations, mark you— and the second aim was to prevent war spreading. What has been the reaction to these moves? Let us start at random but very close to the war. Hungary is not going to allow its territory to be used for surveillance flights in connection with any bombardment of the Serb emplacements round Sarajevo. The Czechs do not want the bombing: they say that it will be playing into Zhirinovsky's hands, and we must remember that he has already declared that in Bosnia the third world war is now under way.

Behind both, of course, we can see Russia itself. The Russian Government has said that the decision to launch a missile and bombing strike on Bosnian-Serb positions should be taken at a sitting of the United Nations Security Council and not by a Command of the peace-keeping forces, and then only if the Serbs do attack the peace-keeping forces. So the Russians have wanted the Security Council to meet to strengthen security zones round Sarajevo.

Here comes my second question. The Security Council was to have met last Friday afternoon but was prevented by snow in New York. I understand that it is scheduled to meet in about two or three hours from now. Is that right, and what will be the Russian position at that meeting? What will our position be? Perhaps the noble Baroness will be able to tell us some facts when she comes to wind up.

I should like to give your Lordships some stray Russian quotes. The Russian Foreign Minister believes that possible air attacks on Bosnia are the "least acceptable option". He stated a week ago: We are categorically against such strikes even in principle … there should not be talk, first and foremost, about air strikes against the Serbs alone. We should talk about protection From attacks from any of the sides". Marshal Grachev, the Minister of Defence, has declared that the proposed action is, capable of provoking a new escalation of combat actions". The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Kozyrev, has said that Russia will, insist on the United Nations Security Council weighing the matter of using force in Bosnia". In the United States, which is of course the country where the pressure for the initiative has come from, we hear the voice of President Clinton's security advisor last week, no doubt reflecting a widely-held feeling. He said: United States forces are not for strengthening peace-keeping; they are for winning wars. And here is another voice from Washington. Mr. William Perry, the Defence Secretary, said yesterday that NATO would consider attacking targets outside the 20 kilometre zone if air strikes fail to prevent. Serbs shelling Sarajevo. My point in referring to these quotes is that both the super-powers, which are both now democracies, are now bound and hampered in their ways by an ill-informed and volatile public opinion. This is not a very comfortable situation for the rest of us in the middle, partly because our public opinion is often better informed and consequently we are not so hampered or bound, and also because we are in the middle.

The Russians in particular have had to change their stance on Bosnia since their elections. Such things as I have quoted used not to be said by the Russians. They now are, and we all know why.

I wish now to stand back from the conflict and question the use of NATO, which is not automatically the right entity to use. The North Atlantic Treaty states that whenever, in the opinion of any, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any member of NATO is threatened, then the members can come to each other's assistance in a military way. An attack on any one of them shall be considered an attack against all of them.

None of those situations applies in this situation. Since the treaty of 1949, there has been the New Strategic Concept of 1991, which does not modify the treaty but fleshes out some detail. It states that arty armed attack on the territory of the allies from whatever direction would be covered by the Washington treaty. It also states that the new world environment does not change the purpose or the security functions of NATO as expressed in the treaty, but underlines their enduring validity.

None of those things has happened. Tragic arid dangerous as it is, the Bosnian conflict does not threaten the security of our countries. It is not an attack on the territory of any of us. It does not call NATO into action under the North Atlantic Treaty.

It represents a new situation. I usually complain that the Government will take military action which is not strictly in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution. However, I do not do so this time. The action is covered by the Security Council resolution. But the delegation of the task by the United Nations to NATO is somewhat of a crooked leg. It is odd. Things do not fit correctly. Where does CSCE (the Council on Security and Co-operation in Europe) come in— that forgotten and most hopeful departure? Its original tenets include a rule that no frontiers should be changed without consent. That rule was broken in a big way by the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. I wonder whether in the private counsels of our governments that factor is held to rule out the CSCE as a practical instrument of peace keeping in future. If so, that would be a great pity. I hope that that body will soldier on.

Perhaps we may compare the intrinsic suitability of the two organisations to deal with the situation. NATO is a partial and exclusive organisation. The CSCE is pan-European, and includes Canada and the United States. NATO is a defensive military alliance formed to meet a specific threat. On the other hand, the CSCE is a regional organisation on the general political level with specified military functions. It seems to me obvious which is the more suitable. The fact that NATO is large and very capable in the military sense, and the CSCE has no troops, does not invalidate the general point that I make. Did not the Secretary-General write to the CSCE at the same time that he wrote to NATO? It would have been a more natural recipient for the letter. Perhaps he did, and we have not heard. Alternatively, perhaps he did not, because he was so strongly pressed by the United States to take the course that he did.

In conclusion, I have grave fears for the future. I believe that the action was avoidable. Given the reaction of the American people to what they have seen on television every day, and our own reaction, such action is difficult to avoid. However, I believe that cool heads would have stood out against the recent surge of American enthusiasm for it, a rash surge in the teeth of the opposition of the other super-power democracy in the world.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Braman

My Lords, I should like to make five points. First, in the British commander of the United Nations Forces in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, whom I know well and respect greatly, we have indeed a first-class soldier. If mountains can be moved, he will move them. If they cannot, he will have the courage— and it sometimes takes just as much courage— to say what cannot be done. I hope that he will be listened to and supported. Having listened to the noble Baroness, I am sure that he will be. After all, it was he who organised the early cease-fire in the Falklands which saved many lives on both sides.

Secondly, although there have always been strong arguments for doing nothing in Yugoslavia— or no more than the admirable and excellent humanitarian operations we undertake at present (and I, too, welcome the praise of the noble Baroness of British forces in that respect)— and strong and perhaps increasingly compelling arguments for taking more positive action, there has never been a case, whatever the political or media pressures, for making threats or cajoling with high sounding phrases and then doing nothing to honour them. The United Nations' credibility, already thin, would then become totally non-existent, as would NATO's credibility. Now that NATO, apparently on behalf of the United Nations, because it is the only organisation capable of controlling these events, has actually laid the matter on the line with a deadline for certain action in Sarajevo, it must be prepared to do what it says, whatever the hazards and the risks.

Thirdly, it seems to me that still much the best of a lot of difficult choices— and General Rose's negotiated cease-fire seems to be pointing in that direction— is to devote all possible military and diplomatic effort to try to make the designated safe haven, or safe area, of Sarajevo temporarily, and without prejudice to any final political solution, a neutralised area under United Nations control, with a United Nations garrison, more legitimately and rationally backed by NATO air power for their own protection; and the Russians would seem to support that as well. That, of course, in itself is not without difficulty and would have probably been, as has already been said, much easier to organise and engineer some months ago in the wake of the quite near acceptance of the Owen-Vance plan. It may now require many more United Nations troops of quality and effectiveness. It must, however, remain a sounder proposition than exclusive and isolated air action, the benefits of which are doubtful and which may do as much harm as good. But if convincing threats of air attack, or its very selective limited and exemplary use, may bring about that neutralisation, it will indeed have served a purpose.

Fourthly, whatever more positive action is undertaken— of course, it may have to be air action, at least of an exemplary nature, because of the very short time now available to the United Nations— I hope that all possible moves and counter moves will be thought through in depth on the advice of those on the ground and that the appropriate contingency plans will be made well in advance. I was relieved to hear the assurance of the noble Baroness on that point, because if there is any hint of anyone sleep walking into this politically highly dangerous situation just with their fingers crossed, we could be in trouble in the weeks ahead.

We may have to be prepared temporarily to suspend our humanitarian operations. Our own in situ forces may need to have more firepower and helicopter and other forms of support, and even have their numbers temporarily increased. General Rose's command machinery may have to be strengthened. All that must be faced while we still have the flexibility and before the die is cast.

Finally, in deciding on an appropriate contribution to whatever now needs to be done, I hope that sound military judgments on the security of our own forces will always be paramount and that we shall not continue to be unduly obsessed and inhibited, as we were, sad to say, in the early preparations for action in the Gulf, by current Ministry of Defence contortions to squeeze a legitimate defence needs quart into a totally arbitrary Treasury pint pot. That is an exercise which would in any case, and sadly all too soon, make it difficult, if not impossible, for us to deploy any sustained and sustainable military effort anywhere, even if it were directly in our national interests, and/or outside pressures became, as they appear to be becoming now, irresistible.

Whatever we do now, there are bound to be risks. There is no question about that. But if the United Nations, backed by NATO, could concentrate on and be successful in making Sarajevo— which, after all, is the crucible of this whole ugly war— a truly safe haven, we would at least have the satisfaction of helping to restore the authority of the United Nations, from which many other advantages would flow. It would also make clear that on Europe's very own doorstep there are things up with which— as Winston Churchill once wrote— we and other European nations simply will not put. That is not only for very important humanitarian reasons but also, I suggest, for practical ones relating to our longer term self-interest.

4.52 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, as usual, the House will have listened with attention and respect to the opinions of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. Since I agree with what he said, I do not propose to elaborate on it. I would like, however, to follow the example of the Minister in opening the debate and extend it a little wider, though perhaps in a slightly different way.

We have mentioned several times the American President, Bill Clinton. I begin by quoting a more distinguished predecessor in that office, Abraham Lincoln, who said: If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending we could then better judge what to do and how to do it". My own feeling has been throughout the conflict that, because we have consistently failed to interpret the course of events because our attention has been focused on them only intermittently since the wars consequent upon the collapse of the old Yugoslavia came upon us, we have never been able to concentrate sufficiently upon what role, if any, it was proper for us to play.

The noble Baroness gave us some good news about the importance of Macedonia. However, there are other areas adjacent to the conflict— Kosovo in particular— where the same apprehensions of its continuance no doubt exist. It is worth going back and looking over a course of events which did not begin in Bosnia. It is perhaps a pity that we had "Bosnia" in the short title of the debate because the Bosnian situation is only a part — it is the most terrible part, the part that has most recently caused us the most anguish, but it is only part — of a long process. The beginning was a short war which everyone has forgotten: the attempt to reconquer Slovenia by the Yugoslav national army, basically a Serb force.

There was then the war in Croatia over the Serb enclaves in that country. It has been suspended, but no one knows for how long. People rightly deplore the destruction of many towns and historic monuments in Bosnia. Have we forgotten the destruction of Vukovar, a town of considerable historic importance, razed to the ground by the Serbs in their pursuit of a greater Serbia?

In other words, it is not a civil war in the way in which we normally think about civil wars. Perhaps we may take a war with which many of us grew up to political adulthood, the Spanish civil war. That was a war between Spaniards, in which, as it happened. external powers intervened to a greater or lesser extent. But the conflict was between Spaniards and it ended with a Spanish government, though not the Spanish government at the time when the war began. But, as was admitted for the first time fully by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons in the Statement last Thursday to which the noble Baroness referred, the war began through Serbian aggression in partnership with the Bosnian Serbs. As the noble Baroness rightly said, although horrific deeds have been done also by Croats and to some extent by the victims of aggression, the Moslems, unless one appreciates how the war began, one can neither assess what has been happening in Bosnia nor reckon what is likely to happen in Macedonia, Kosovo and, if it starts again, as may well be the case, once more in Croatia.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, reminded us of events in the 8th and 9th centuries. For present purposes, I do not believe that we need to go back quite so far as that, but it is important to remember the early modern period, the 18th and 19th centuries, in that pan of the world. What was true then was not merely that there was the religious division— and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was perfectly right in referring to the religious rather than the ethnic nature of the divisions—. it was that part of the area was part of the Habsburg Empire and part of it was part of the Ottoman Empire; and that roughly coincided with the religious divisions. Clearly, that made the creation of a united Yugoslavia at the end of the First World War one of the most precarious achievements of the peace conference.

But if we look at the national movement in all parts of what became Yugoslavia, the notable point— and this relates very closely to what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said— was that Serbia was patronised by Russia. It became Russia's outpost in Eastern Europe. Indeed, it was the Russo-Serb connection which, through the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo, was the proximate— only the: proximate, not necessarily the ultimate— cause of the First World War. From that we should have drawn a lesson which has very little relation to the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, attaches importance; namely, the fact that Russia is now a democratic country and we can talk to it in the same way as we can talk to other democratic countries. Whether Russia its democratic or not, it is bound to retain an interest in Serbia. Therefore a settlement in the Balkans can be attained only if in some way Russia can be persuaded to take part in negotiating it and can be brought on board as a guarantor. For that reason, even more important than what General Rose may be doing today in Sarajevo is what the Prime Minister may be able to do today or tomorrow in Moscow. It is a key to what can happen.

It is all very well to say that the United States has pushed us into a position which we would otherwise have been reluctant to be in. What has happened is that Europe on its own has proved incapable of resolving a situation which, if not a direct threat to our frontiers, is through the trigger mechanism a possible cause of events which might certainly in the end— not next week or the week after but in the end — threaten the whole construction of Europe where peace still prevails. Europe cannot do it. The CSCE, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred, is a wraith, a myth, a mist. Therefore it was natural that in the end the two super-powers would somehow or other have to bring this war to an end. Whether or not they can do it, no one else can.

It is essential, therefore, to look at each stage of the war and to try to remember what those stages were. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, who rightly reminded us of the sheer statistics of misery, and not only of the deaths and the semi-starvation imposed by the obstacles placed in the way of our aid effort and by the blockade of the so-called safe havens, including Tuzla. Other factors have also made the situation impossible. One of them is ethnic cleansing. And who now remembers Dame Anne Warburton's report on the number of mass rapes carried out by Serbs in Bosnia for military purposes? It is a pity and is to be regretted— this may be what people mean by not listening to the "something must be done" school— that we have not looked and been prepared to look at each event following each event and tried to find out what lessons could be drawn from it.

As is to be expected in the case of a war abroad, a good deal of propaganda has been directed at other countries, trying to make them see the justice of the cause of one side or the other. To some extent the justice of the cause of those who have suffered aggression has been accepted. We were told, not very long ago as history goes, that the West would never tolerate the fixing of boundaries through military aggression. It is quite clear that that hope has been abandoned. As the noble Baroness said, the best that can be hoped for is that some kind of room will be made for the Bosnian Moslems to have their own place.

People criticise Germany— and in some respects German diplomacy has been clumsy— but one point to which no one has referred is that Germany has taken in a very large number of refugees. The refugee problem in Europe is surely a matter which should concern us all. This war has created a new wave of over a million refugees; and any war which in imitation of it were to begin or to be continued, as may happen, in the Caucasus— about which we talked the other day— will set that process in motion.

Sometimes the arguments put forward to defend the Serb force in particular seem to me to be far-fetched. Miss Nora Beloff, writing in today's Times, quotes General Briquemont in regard to the fact that some of the shooting in Sarajevo starts on the Moslem side. That may well be true; General Briquemont has been there and I have not. But that is hardly a very important comment. Why are the Moslems having to shoot at anyone? Why is Sarajevo besieged? Towns that are besieged often tend to try to take the initiative against the besiegers, particularly when the besiegers persistently cut off the routes of their food supplies, energy, water and electricity. In regard to the Moslems in Sarajevo one could repeat the famous notice on a cage in a French zoo: "Cet animal est mé chant. Quartet on l'attaque it se defend'. When this kind of comment gets circulation people say that all sides are as bad as each other and there is nothing to be done about it. They are all in their different ways not people we would much enjoy having to live with. But they have to live with each other. The question of responsibility has to be solved.

The final point, and the only one on which I would come into contact with the question as to what we do next and what happens next— questions that were surveyed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall — is this. The characteristic of Serb actions— they are Bosnian Serb actions; but I find it very difficult to distinguish between Milosevic and his Bosnian acolytes, no matter how hard he may from time to time try to distinguish himself— has been that, whenever there has been serious pressure or the threat of military action, they make just enough of a concession to make it difficult for the countries that have threatened them to follow the threat through. That explains why the noble and gallant Lord had to refer to instances when it looked as though we were going to do something but at the last moment we did not. Everything we know shows that that tactic is ingrained in those people.

I do not agree with all the strictures made on the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, because I see their difficulties. But so far as concerns Tuzla, the noble Lord is absolutely right. No reason other than a willingness to take the promises of brigands at their face value has prevented that airport from being opened. Why have we maintained aircraft in the skies over Bosnia for months if we cannot find ways of opening an airport which might enable those aircraft to deliver food rather than merely burn up fuel?

This is a tragic issue. It is one to which I fear this House will have to return in the not too distant future.

5.10 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, for introducing the debate in her usual helpful and competent manner. I endorse her praise for British troops who are involved in Bosnia and pay tribute to the excellent way in which they do their work. It is because I am very concerned for their future that I take the view that I do about the conflict. I am pleased that the noble Baroness insisted and underlined the fact that it is a civil war despite the fact that her noble friend Lord Beloff seems to think otherwise. It is a civil war, and no amount of demonising the Serbs will alter that fact.

The situation arose from a desire on the part of the British Government to appease Germany in its recognition of Croatia. That was most unfortunate. If it had not happened, the dismemberment of Yugoslavia may not have occurred in the way that it did. There could have been peaceful negotiation. However, that was not to be, and we find ourselves in our present situation. It appears that our Government, through weakness and vacillation in the face of President Clinton and President Mitterrand, are agreeing to military intervention through air strikes against only one of the warring parties. That carries grave implications and danger for the future. I feel sure that the Government will have considered that.

I should like to ask whether the Bosnian Moslems have now achieved their objective of bringing NATO and the United Nations into the war on their side. Perhaps the Government do not see it that way. Or maybe have they not considered that possibility?

The responsibility for the shelling of Sarajevo market place the weekend before last has not been established. Indeed, as I understand it, an investigation is still taking place. Yet the United States and France have jumped into action on the basis that it was the Serbs who carried out the shelling. What worries me about the whole business is whether the shelling of Sarajevo market place will become a sort of Bosnian "Gulf of Tongking" incident. Everybody knows what that was about. It was a ruse to get the United States involved in Vietnam, with disastrous consequences.

We are entitled to ask why the British Government changed their minds almost overnight. Were they really cowed into submission by President Clinton's threat of withdrawal from NATO or by the French Government's attempt to rescue something from the shambles that their intervention has so far created? We are entitled to know why the Government changed from being critics of the "do something" brigade to becoming part of it. Whatever we think, we are entitled to know exactly why that change of mind took place. We are also entitled to know what vital British interest is at stake which warrants the possibility— there is now a possibility— of a large-scale commitment of British troops and high casualties. Will British lives be risked in Bosnia to save NATO's face? What are the reasons for the Government's change of heart.

If air strikes fail and the war intensifies elsewhere in Bosnia other than at Sarajevo, what is the likely response to that situation? What if the Serbs and the Bosnians refuse to withdraw their heavy weapons? What is the next step? It is virtually inevitable that the commitment of large-scale ground troops will then be necessary. That would be an enormous disaster. It is inevitable that large-scale troop involvement in Bosnia would lead on to war with Serbia itself. It is a situation fraught with enormous danger.

I fear that the reason why history so often repeats itself is that politicians refuse to learn the lessons of history. As we know, interventions in civil wars have led to enormous disasters. Consider the position in Vietnam where the United States intervened. That ended up with one million people killed— 50,000 of them United States troops— and one million more maimed and injured. The end result was that the United States withdrew in chaos and ignominy. In Beirut, again after big casualties, the United States forces withdrew in chaos and ignominy. In Afghanistan the Soviet intervention was a disaster. Hundreds of thousands of lives Were lost before the Soviet army withdrew in ignominy and defeat. That undoubtedly contributed to the downfall of the Soviet empire (which may have been a very good thing) but the Afghans are still fighting each other. So that intervention did not lead to any good outcome and indeed unnecessarily killed more people. Finally, in Somalia, the military intervention, which was; intended to help the humanitarian effort, ended in chaos and ignominy with United States troops bombing and. gunning down innocent civilians including women and. children, taking aid officials prisoner, strengthening the warlords and undermining confidence in the United Nations. That is what interventions on the ground have done so far.

I am concerned that the threat of bombing should not: lead to military intervention on the ground in Bosnia. I. prefer to learn the lessons of history. Military intervention in Bosnia is almost inevitably bound to end the same way. In my view, the dangers are even greater.

We are told that the present Bosnian situation constitutes a serious threat to European peace, particularly in central Europe. I do not believe that to be true. However, intervention in Bosnia by ground forces would constitute a real threat to peace in Europe, if not the world. Let us make no mistake about it; let us not be namby-pamby about it. Russia would not be able to ignore a ground intervention. The least that would happen is that volunteer troops from Russia would assist the Serbs. Even more serious, the stresses and strains within the region caused by any western intervention on the ground could bring the present Russian regime crashing down, perhaps to be replaced by something extremely sinister and warlike.

It is imperative that that sort of situation is not allowed to occur. I ask the noble Baroness for absolute assurances that British ground troops will not become involved in a fighting role in Bosnia. We are entitled to ask that because we have seen the Government change their position, often overnight, as in the case of air strikes. I believe that the House is entitled to receive the assurance that British troops will not become involved on the ground in a fighting role in Bosnia, and certainly not on the side of one of the civil war combatants.

Finally, I ask the Government, even at this late stage, to reconsider their attitude towards any intervention through air strikes. It would be the beginning of an extremely serious step leading to God knows what, as I have described. I urge both the Minister and the Government to reconsider their position.

5.22 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, the situation in Bosnia daily becomes even more unpredictable than it has been in the recent past, even allowing for the awful and shocking events to which we have been exposed by the media. Perhaps that is one explanation for the considerable flux in the Government's approach to the problems there over the past few weeks and to which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, drew attention.

We all listened closely to what the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said and repeated last Thursday, which helped to spell out some of the most recent political objectives which the Government perceive in the Bosnian cauldron. She said, and repeated today, that the Government would support the use of air power, provided that it would support and not undermine the aid effort and the peace process". — [Official Report, 10/2194; col.1713.] She also said, at col.1714, that, the attempts made by General Rose to secure the demilitarisation of Sarajevo and the agreement to place the city under UN administration, … are a major step forward". The Minister also went on to say last Thursday, in regard to Tuzla Airport: We intend to see not only that [it] is opened but that it is kept open". In the Foreign Secretary's Statement in another place last Thursday, which was repeated here, he stressed rightly that the war, will not end by military victory. A lasting settlement cannot be imposed". — [col.1710.] It is interesting to recall that only a few weeks ago we were reading headlines regarding the possibility, even the likelihood, of British troops withdrawing from Bosnia, "in the Spring". Those were authoritative headlines based on ministerial briefings and statements. I wonder whether they were simply tactical leaks designed to put pressure on allies or others to face up to the issues, or that we are seeing a genuine reappraisal of the military contribution which our and other United Nations ground and air forces can make to solving a diabolical problem. The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, told us today that the future of our forces in Bosnia is still under consideration.

Those twists and turns leave me concerned about the directives which our Armed Forces in the area are receiving. In the Gulf war I sought and obtained clear written political objectives so that we and the allied forces could be given precise directives to be put into action to achieve those objectives. It was possible to see before we started what territorial and other gains had to be achieved to meet the military contribution to the overall objectives. What seems to be lacking in the various and at times disjointed snippets of political objectives emanating from New York, Brussels or here in London, is an indication of how we are to measure the success of some elements of the military contribution.

Getting humanitarian aid through in sufficient quantity to the various distribution points can be measured. If air power is to be used, other than in the direct support of ground forces escorting aid convoys, how should we be measuring whether it meets the United Nations and NATO's objectives? If the threat of its use contributes to meeting an objective, well and good. But if it has to be used I am concerned about the potentially protracted nature of such a commitment.

I trust that the Government are confident that there will be sufficient aircraft and support of the right kind available for months, maybe years, if peace is not brought to end this dreadful civil war. After more than two years no side seems to be willing to agree to a stable settlement. The more that the United Nations establishes safe havens in and around Sarajevo, Tuzla, Mostar, and so on, the greater will become the demand for protection forces on the ground, for supporting air cover and resupplying convoys. There will be an understandable tendency for large numbers of refugees to flock to the safety of the protected areas. Have we and the other nations faced up to the implications of sustaining ever-increasing numbers of distressed and homeless people and the ground forces supporting the havens?

Those who talk glibly of using air power and a few surgical strikes to solve much of our problems are in danger of overlooking the amount of effort which is already being expended by the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm in meeting the Bosnian and a number of other protracted commitments in other parts of the world. At the moment every type of operational aircraft — with the exception of the Buccaneer, which is being withdrawn from service in a few weeks time— is committed to operations somewhere around the world. Many of those aircraft are flying well in excess of their authorised hours and a large number of their front-line and support units are either deployed or under notice to deploy. Our Hercules special forces and other air crews have made over 1,000 flights in and out of Sarajevo since it was besieged.

While I am quite certain that none of those involved expects to do other than undertake such commitments as they arise, it is as well to realise that many are facing long periods away from home. Most of the air crews and their ground support personnel are away for anything up to 200 days a year. At the same time, the Royal Air Force, in line with the other two services, is reorganising and drawing down numbers rapidly. Twenty-two thousand uniformed personnel and a further 2,000 civilians will also have been involved in moves over a three or four year period. I find it alarming to learn that of the 3,500 made redundant in the last two phases of the rundown in the Royal Air Force, all but a 100 were ready volunteers.

So long as the Royal Air Force and the other services are so highly committed operationally, with the ever present prospect of operational patrolling turning into live warfare, I seriously question the wisdom of proceeding with further major defence cost studies and other cost cutting initiatives. While none of us would want to be wasteful, I fear that there is a real danger that the ever reducing manpower of the forces will not be able to give full attention to both live operations and economy exercises. Something must give. It ought not to be operations where lives and much more may be at stake.

I mention these matters because we are hearing so much about the use of air power. It is as well to remind ourselves that it is not just a matter of sending a small flight of aircraft here or there with a few bombs on board. Much much more is involved. We need to be careful about overloading a very fine bunch of professionals with non-operational concerns. So long as Her Majesty's Government require them to punch their weight and more in many trouble spots around the world, let them concentrate on that.

5.31 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, recently I had the privilege of going to SHAFE at Mons and to NATO headquarters. It was at NATO headquarters we heard about the new or fairly new role which the Armed Forces have all over the world; namely, a humanitarian role. It is a role which requires as much courage as, if not more courage than, the more traditional role they have had in the past. I should like to join those who have paid tribute to our forces, which are maintaining such a difficult position in the present three-cornered civil war. It seems that in today's culture of contempt the services, as someone said in The Times newspaper this morning, retain the respect and the admiration of many people in this land.

It was also during that visit that someone, whose name I could not disclose even if I knew it, said during a very interesting lecture that to take the guns away from the trigger-happy majors above the city of Sarajevo would require an army of 130,000 men. That, I should think, is a conservative estimate.

I find myself fascinated by the high standard of contributions in the debate— I have enjoyed hearing them for the very competence of the speeches— and the subject is obviously one over which good people will disagree.

I want to say very briefly what Christian Churches have been doing because it has often been implied that they have been doing nothing. In fact,26 million dollars worth of food, medicines and the like have been channelled by the humanitarian efforts of the Churches. The distribution of such has relied on the Churches on the ground. Here we have a particular advantage. We have communities on the ground which will assist with the distribution. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, needs no reminding that the Churches would be ready to do that and to assist in any way they possibly can. Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed Churches, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal have been busy with this. Indeed, £ 600,000 of aid has been channelled by the Catholic Organisation for Overseas Development and a similar sum by Christian Aid. The whole exercise sets out to assist victims regardless of ethnic or religious background. The plight of women victims of war is of particular concern to the World Council of Churches, which has set up a special fund for such sufferers. The Church of Scotland has provided Caroline Boyd as the field consultant for the fund.

In order to support and encourage the Churches on the ground to care for all their people, visits have been made from this country and will be made again. At least we hope so. For the great hope is that these works of mercy and charity will not be brought to an end by any action that we might have to take on 20th February. Here I have to disclose my hand. I do not believe it is right or wise to make air strikes. But equally I realise that having threatened to do so we must carry them out if necessary; otherwise we reach the stage of the schoolmaster who is known by the boys in the class never to fulfil any of his threats and therefore cannot keep order. So what a dilemma there is! It is for those aid workers that we must have the utmost concern. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to reassure us in some way in the face of the rumours last Friday that aid workers might well be used as human shields in the event of air strikes by the United Nations.

Church leaders have condemned the abhorrent and barbaric acts of rape and so-called ethnic cleansing, the terrible destruction of homes and communities and the ruthless slaughter of civilians. We would all echo that. The search for reconciliation goes on. The Council of European Churches together with the Roman Catholic Council of European Bishops called a totally ecumenical conference of European Churches at Pé cs in Hungary. They called on their governments for a cease-fire and for the lessening of human suffering and pain. They insisted that forced emigration should stop. They called on all Christian people in Yugoslavia to promote peace, reconciliation and compassion. It was their wish at Pé cs that governments would call on Christian people of all denominations to promote and pray for the peace process.

So the Churches have done and are doing something and they offer their services for peace and the alleviation of human suffering wherever the secular state can use them. They have not, however, called for direct military intervention for they share the view that unless a peace has been agreed on the ground, outside military intervention would deepen the conflict and provoke more violence and suffering. There must be a desire in every right-thinking person to hammer those who permit dreadful and abhorrent violence against innocent: people. But it is questionable whether that attitude and. desire for retribution, however understandable that may be, can be the raw material and the basis of a good foreign policy.

Can the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, when she, sums up, tell your Lordships' House what are the aims of air strikes? If, as has been said, it is to make Sarajevo a neutral and safe haven, let that be the limited. objective. For the doctrine of the just war it is necessary. so the doctrine says, to be satisfied that by entering the conflict we shall actually make it better. If you cannot. feel satisfied in your own mind that that will be so, you have no business to enter it. That involves being prepared to see things through to a satisfactory conclusion and being committed to that with all our resources. As I said, that will involve a huge army and goodness knows how many years in administering conquered territory. Is that really what we want to do?

If we do have to make air strikes on 20th February — I imagine that every Member of your Lordships' House hopes that we do not— it will be the first time in its history that NATO has fired a shot in anger. The change in the self-understanding of NATO will be immense, as also will be the attitude towards NATO which may well become a fourth ingredient in this civil war. NATO was founded as a defence alliance. It won probably the greatest battle of all time. The Russian empire was defeated without firing a shot. It was achieved by immense patience and a courageous retention of nerve.

Before I sit down I repeat my expression of concern for all those who have left house and home to drive lorries or to distribute aid in food and medicine— the aid workers and those protecting them— and prevail on Her Majesty's Government to stand in the councils of the nations for wisdom and patience and not to respond to popular demand, while abhorring, of course, the evil which we all deplore.

5.41 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I wish chiefly to set the Bosnia issue in the wider framework of our relations with eastern Europe and Russia and our future in NATO. But, first, it is absolutely vital that, as a country, we should not deprive General Rose and the military command in Yugoslavia of their most valuable weapon, the element of surprise. Our Government have, for good or ill, decided to threaten the Serbs with an air strike if certain conditions are not fulfilled. That is the strategy. Tactics must be left to the man on the ground, who cannot hope to keep the Serbs guessing and catch them off balance if he and our Government are constantly required to spell out what action would be taken in a range of different scenarios which we can all envisage. Let us not speculate; let us not question and probe in the next seven days; and let us not suggest that we are not serious about the threat. In doing that we weaken his hand. Let us enable General Rose to keep everyone guessing and meanwhile negotiate with the winning cards, if any, still safely in his hand and not face up on the table.

Our strategy— our policy— in Bosnia is clearly dictated by a number of outside factors. Will the US withdraw from Europe if NATO is not seen to be both decisive and effective? Or will President Clinton, and our own Government, be blackmailed by Russia and persuade us into inaction on the grounds that to go against Russian support for the Serbs will make President Yeltsin's position untenable? Fortunately, the Security Council resolutions to which Russia was a party authorise action, but I fear that there is plenty of evidence that Yeltsin and Zhirinovsky are at one in supporting the Serbs. I fear too that the Russians are, as always, playing a version of the old, old doves and hawks game under which the West has constantly to concede, in order to strengthen mythical doves against hawks, in a country where there is in fact a remarkable unity of purpose between the old communist establishment, the new reformers and the not very new hard right, on the desirability of getting what Russia wants.

President Yeltsin's spokesman, following Yeltsin's visit to Brussels last December, set out clearly what Mr. Kostikov has also spelt out from time to time. Speaking about the talks between President Yeltsin and Manfred Worner, the NATO Secretary General, Mr. Kostikov said that the two men's approach to the North Atlantic union was very close. But Yeltsin thought that, if Europe embarks on the path of accepting Eastern European countries into NATO this will be regarded as detrimental to Russia". He added that for the first time the question of Russia itself joining NATO was raised directly. Moreover, he added, Jacques Delors, chairman of the European Commission, asked President Yeltsin himself whether Russia would like to join NATO". He said that there was an impression that Europe would like that.

It seems difficult to believe that we actually contemplate inviting the wolf into the fold while agreeing with the wolf that it would be very offensive to him to invite more sheep. Perhaps I may remind the House that Russia is meanwhile setting up 27 military bases in the territories of the CIS states; launching a new heavy missile cruiser; doubling expenditure in defence R& D; putting the new Sukhoy 34 bomber into mass production; and arguing for an army of over 2 million men.

Yeltsin's new year message to the people of Russia outside her borders was: We were and will be together. We defend and will defend your and our common interests". I realise only too well that western governments, including our own, are on the horns of a dilemma. Is Yeltsin at risk? Is the US poised to forge a direct relationship with Russia and withdraw from NATO, leaving a meaningless friendship society to face a very turbulent and uncertain future?

I believe that at the least we should try to be clear-sighted. Russia's self-appointed new role as internal peacemaker is being, and will be, used to justify considerable military strength. Her neighbours, who are now being included once more in the self-assumed Russian sphere of influence, will be looking to see whether we have the power or the will to resist, not an immediate threat of war, but a menacing pressure of imperialist expansionism; or whether we hope to convince ourselves and them that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

The fact that the communist nomenklatura, temporarily submerged, is climbing back to a degree of power in both Poland and Hungary is a further complication and Hungary's refusal, reported today and referred to by another noble Lord, to let NATO use her air space is another straw in the wind. We have little room for manoeuvre. If there is no air strike and the Serbs appear to comply, there may be a respite. But it will not be a solution. If we are forced to use air strikes there will be a major escalation in the troops and aircraft required and we shall be in a new and yet more serious situation.

Have the defence cuts already emptied the cupboard? There is one lesson that we can learn and one action that we can take to improve a very bad position. It is to halt the cuts and to endeavour, if we can, to be seen to provide a credible and effective NATO deterrent. In doing that we should send the right signals to America, to Russia and to eastern Europe in the longer term. It is true that we need Russia's support over Bosnia. We shall only get it if the Russians see that we are worthy of respect and that we see them clearly. We must not forget that they need us too.

I believe, with other noble Lords, that our great mistake was to follow Germany's lead and recognise new countries which did not meet our criteria for recognition and thus become embroiled in a civil war because we wished to be seen to be good Europeans. I fear too that the air strikes, if they happen, will be exploited against us very effectively by the Serbs in ways that we can all imagine and that it will be difficult indeed for us to extricate ourselves. But before anything else, I believe that, having made a decision, we must now support it to the hilt if the threat is to be credible and effective. We must be sure, however, to have the resources to do whatever is necessary. Without that a fatal blow would be dealt to our political and military credibility as members of NATO and of the Security Council. We cannot pursue a consistent policy if we have no teeth at all.

5.49 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I listened with great attention to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey. I admire her suit or dress. She may not know— but I suppose that she does— that it closely resembles the tartan of the Black Watch, the senior Highland regiment. I hoped that that was a sign of stiffening on the part of the Government, but I must say that I see more sign of that in the dress than in the speech.

Turning to the speeches that we have heard this afternoon, I notice that those who are in the "do nothing" brigade refer constantly to "civil war". This is not a civil war. Of course, one can call it a civil war because the parties once formed one country or federation, but this is a war of brutal aggression for territory that the Serbs want. There is not a shadow of doubt that the enemy of peace and of the people of Bosnia is not that particular satellite Karadzic; it is Milosevic and his dream of a greater Serbia. That is what the war is about.

This is a war that is taking place at the heart of Europe. It is a war of immense importance for the future of Europe. If we in Europe cannot stand the barbarity in our midst, what can we do? What hope is there for our world order to succeed? The whole position reminds people of my age— and there are many even older in this House— of the civil war in Spain, to which the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred. There are great similarities. A war was taking place that was supported and supplied by the fascist countries of Italy and Germany, and we subscribed to an embargo on arms for the government. It applied only to the government. That was, of course, an intolerable position and the rebels won the day, as was practically inevitable. Our actions today have many similarities.

I must strongly criticise the position that the Government have taken. They were a party to the setting up of the negotiating team of Vance and Owen. I was at the. Council of Europe about a year and a half ago when we heard a speech from the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in which he said quite definitely that the one thing that the negotiators would not tolerate was the retention of territory that had been won by brutal means such as ethnic cleansing and every other form of modern brutality. Since then, the position of the negotiating team on behalf of Europe has been to give way and to endeavour to persuade the Moslems to accept a situation imposed on them by force by the Serbs.

We hear also— mostly from the people in the "do nothing" brigade— that atrocities are committed by all sides. There is no doubt that that is true, but who can doubt who let the genie out of the bottle? When people see atrocities being committed against their own people (and the evidence has been before them for a long time), they become irrational.

We must make up our minds about what we are going to do. The Government say that they are only interested in providing humanitarian aid. Like others, I pay tribute to the troops. It must be awful for fighting regiments to have to negotiate with the most appalling people as they try to get the food through. One must admire them and the discipline that makes them able to tolerate the sort of things that they have to tolerate.

We have also agreed to a blockade on and to apply sanctions against Serbia as a whole. We have done that totally ineffectively. First, we used our aircraft and our ships to count the violations— to count the petrol-runners as they went in. Then we stiffened it up a bit. But the fact is that sanctions are not working. I am told by the noble Baroness that the embargo on arms is not working for the Bosnian Moslems. All our efforts seem to be in vain. They seem ludicrous. It is true that time after time Milosevic has played with Europe and with our effort. It is also absolutely proven that every time that we have threatened to use the overwhelming force that we possess, he has given a little until some of us (whether the Brits, the French or the Americans) have been unable to agree with the action taken— and away the Serbs go again.

We must have a proper policy. We now find ourselves with one, but somewhat reluctantly. We have decided that we are going to be realistic about the safe havens. I agree totally with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that that is an objective that we must look at because it is one that can achieve a great deal more than the safe havens. I agree also that we must provide the equipment, the money and the people that are needed. The other noble and gallant Lord from my own service of long ago stressed the fact that without the means, the services cannot provide the essential backing; that we need to carry out a policy.

We have an objective: to secure the safe havens. If we do secure them, we shall be sending a very strong message to Milosevic and the Serbs that we mean business and that we have at last done sornething that we said that we would do. If we can do that, we shall come nearer to achieving the objective that we all want, which is a peaceful settlement (however bad that appears when set against our original objectives). A peaceful settlement could now be achieved, but to achieve it the Government, along with the rest of our allies, must be consistent and firm.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, for introducing this debate with such an excellent review of the events in Bosnia and to thank other noble Lords who have taken us through the history and complications of the terrible conflict in the Balkans.

However, I should like to concentrate entirely on one issue, the NATO ultimatum. As the air has been alive recently with the sound of doves making noises like hawks, perhaps it will not come amiss if a notorious hawk utters for once a few plaintive cries of warning. Several noble Lords have asked what circumstances have changed to make the Government abandon their view that armed force is not a useful option in this conflict. A number of possibilities have been put forward. I should like to advance another. One of the main and more recent reasons why the policy has changed is because it so happened that a TV camera crew happened to be on the spot immediately after the recent appalling incidents in the marketplace in Sarajevo. The pictures were beamed hundreds of times into the homes of people in Europe, America and all over the world.

Once again, foreign policy has been hijacked not by the American or French governments but by the TV practitioners and other people of the media. Some are ill-equipped to comprehend the broader implications of what they are reporting and suggesting. At a recent lecture a practitioner in the television world openly boasted that the function of the TV reporter in the Balkans was to oblige the Foreign Secretary to do things that he would not otherwise have the courage to do. Reporting from Bosnia within the last few days, the same person used the phrase, "This is at last a victory for the new tough approach".

That is where there has been a change in the attitude not only of our Government but in that of many Western governments. Although it has become one of the cliché s of the debate, NATO has surrendered to the something-must-be-done school of foreign policy. What has it decided to do? It has decided to issue an ultimatum that unless the Serbs carry out a certain number of carefully specified actions within a specific number of days there will be air strikes against some of their positions. That has occurred in spite of the fact that we are told over and over again— and most of us believe it— that armed force will not bring an end to this war which, despite opinions to the contrary, is in the view of most people a civil war.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, suggested that we should not probe too much into the contingencies and possibilities that might follow. To a great extent she is right. As my noble friend Lord Bramall said, we must assume, as most of us do, that our Government and other governments have thought the thing through to its logical conclusion. I cannot believe that they are, as my noble friend put it, just sleepwalking into the situation with their fingers crossed.

The Government must know, therefore, that the ultimatum to the Serbs, which is due to expire in a few days, has a finite number of possible consequences. The first is that the Serbs might totally ignore the ultimatum. Indeed, at one time they threatened to do so. If they do and NATO fails to act upon its ultimatum there will be a disastrous loss of credibility and influence not just for NATO but for the United Nations, the United States and ourselves.

Let us suppose that the Serbs ignore the ultimatum and that we carry out air strikes against certain specified targets. What then? We all know the dangers and it is unnecessary to rehearse them at great length. There may be retaliation against foreign troops in Yugoslavia. There may be serious and perhaps decisive disruption to the aid programme. How do we know precisely how surgical— if I may use that expression— the air strikes will be? However surgical an air strike, there is almost bound to be a certain amount of what is known as "collateral damage". People are actually killed when bombs are dropped on them, and that is very much likely to happen in this case. That leaves aside the really disastrous scenario, which is the use of foreigners or people of their own kind as a human shield against such an attack.

On the other hand, what if the Serbs comply? What if they pull their guns back to the 20 kilometre line and cease temporarily the bombardment of Sarajevo? Nothing much will have been achieved. Peace would be no nearer. The end of the war would be no nearer. Other forms of violence can be practised within the context of this dreadful civil war. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, these people are expert at such things. After a while they will move back and the whole process will have to be started all over again.

But there is another scenario which is in my view the most likely of all. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, perceptively referred to it. The Serbs may partially comply; they may do just enough to persuade the NATO planners and the United Nations Secretariat that perhaps this is not quite the moment to fulfil the ultimatum. Indeed, there have been recent reports that the United Nations people have said, "You don't really need the guns to go back 20 kilometres. There are other ways of preventing them shelling Sarajevo". That is the beginning of a crack. I fear that the withdrawal will take place partially and to an extent which will make it very difficult indeed for the West to fulfil its threats.

Let us think, for example, of what will happen if they decide to withdraw their guns into one of their major brigade or divisional headquarters. Do we then bomb a Serb brigade headquarters? We must think very carefully before we do that. What if the Serbs withdraw their guns into villages? Do we then bomb the villages? However surgical an air strike on the guns in a village, it will have some fairly devastating effects.

We have put ourselves into a difficult and agonising position. Either we shall not fulfil our threat, not deliver on the ultimatum and lose credibility entirely in the area, and perhaps in other places around the world, or, if we do what we threaten to do, we are on the road to something which not even the most imaginative contingency planner can entirely envisage.

I wish to ask the Minister a specific question which has arisen in the debate but is not yet fully clear. Certainly I am not clear about it. Who will be responsible for authorising the air strike at midnight on the day that the ultimatum expires? I cannot believe the suggestion that it will be a British General in the field. If that is true, it is a perilous position to place ourselves in. On the other hand, I hope that the Secretary General of the United Nations will not be the man to decide.

Who will be responsible? What consultation and military and political decision will have to be taken on midnight on the day that the ultimatum expires if the air strike is to be launched? That is one of the things at least that we should be told, and told very clearly. I believe that we are embarked on a high-risk strategy. It could end either in our being sucked into a broader conflict, with all that means, or a humiliating withdrawal.

I ask the question which was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Why are we involved in this conflict anyway? Where are the vital interests that are at stake? I must confess that I perceive none. It is possible, of course, that we fear the spread of this war outside its present boundaries. That would be dangerous but there are other ways of dealing with that than becoming totally and militarily involved in the conflict. We have been told, and no doubt we shall be told again, that we cannot sit idly by and watch the denial of human rights, ethnic cleansing, oppression and brutality without doing something about it. Well, we have not done much about it during the years. We have watched brutality and oppression take place on a massive scale all over the world but we have not yet done what we are proposing to do in Yugoslavia.

Further, as several noble Lords have said, we are in danger of damaging broader aspects of our foreign policy. Relations with Russia, especially in the context of securing any kind of peace in the Balkans, are absolutely vital. If we continue this unilateral policy — which is what it is— of carrying out air strikes against one side in this civil war, I fear that relations with Russia may be damaged seriously.

Part of the problem lies in the United Nations. We must take a fresh look at what has happened to the United Nations since the Gulf War. In my view, it has begun to have an inflated idea of its own role, influence and importance in the world. It is behaving like the defence ministry of a major power when it should be more closely equated to the foreign office of a third world country. It is beginning to interfere almost at will in matters which some time ago would have been properly left to national sovereignty. I believe that we are embarked on a dangerous course of action.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the noble Lord is aware that actions taken by the United Nations must be decided upon by the Security Council, which has only five members. For the purposes of war and peace, the United Nations is the Security Council. Does the noble Lord have any feeling about which of those five members may be causing the irresponsible actions about which he complains?

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. Having been a representative of the United Nations, I am well aware of the powers of the Security Council. I do not place the blame on the Security Council or any member of it. I believe that the bureaucracy of the United Nations is becoming altogether too powerful and is beginning to take decisions and authorise actions far too readily. In my view, in that way it is becoming something of a danger as regards regional conflicts such as that in Yugoslavia.

I end by saying— and it is not the first time it has been said this evening, having been said by both my noble and gallant friends— that if we are bent on pursuing actions and policies of this kind we must look again seriously at Options for Change and Front Line First and all the other euphemisms which are advanced for cutting our defence forces. If we are to drop bombs on people, we had better have the aircraft from which to drop them; we had better have the airmen to fly and maintain those aircraft; and we had better have the soldiers, sailors, ships and tanks necessary to follow up the action if A goes wrong. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot stride around the world seeking to play a major role in every regional crisis, however serious and dangerous it may be, if we are not prepared to afford the military establishment which is essential for the successful pursuit of such a foreign policy. It would riot be the first time that a miscalculation in the Balkans has led to disaster. I hope that we shall not let that happen this time.

6.13 p.m.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Chalker for bringing this debate to your Lordships' attention. I should like to concentrate on the situation which exists now and to emphasise some of the difficulties that face NATO and the British Army in the support of the United Nations protection force.

Before I go any further, I should like to pay tribute also to our sailors, soldiers, airmen and the many civilian volunteers who have shown such great courage and who have provided such dedicated and professional expertise in support of the United Nations operation. In particular, I congratulate Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose on the prompt, robust and successful approach that he has made to date. I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House would wish him good fortune and success in the difficult future,

I turn now to some of the important factors of the current situation which shall discuss under the: headings of NATO, the ultimatum and the effects on the British Army. First, as regards NATO, in the context of the debate I am sure that there is no need to remind your Lordships that the keystone of western defence has been and I presume will continue to be NATO and that our defence policy is based on our commitment to it. The current reduction in our Armed Forces, to which I am utterly opposed, has been made easier for the Government by their very commitment and contribution to NATO.

As many noble Lords have said this afternoon, the credibility of NATO could now be at stake. If it does not implement the course of action that has been decided upon, it could well be asked, why does NATO exist today? Surely in this post-cold war period it exists for the very situation which confronts us now in Bosnia.

If NATO is to continue to be seen to be a credible organisation and the pillar of strength on which Britain and the other western countries rely for their existing security, there can be no going back on the decisions that have been made. Those decisions must be followed through and a clear and strong NATO strategy should be issued as soon as possible. To turn back now, should the Bosnian Serbs not comply with the ultimatum, and to take no action after the recent announcement would result in a complete withdrawal of the UN force and a total humiliation for NATO It would also be the end of the organisation and the termination of the security system which has protected the west so successfully for so long. In my view, NATO would rightly be seen to be powerless, voiceless and an organisation of no future consequence.

With a reduced Army establishment of only 122,000 troops, there is little capacity within our existing commitments to take on additional ones without causing even more desperate overstretch to the Army. However, the facts of the matter are that we are involved in the former Yugoslavia with a deployment of 2,500 British Army troops in and around Bosnia, Royal Navy ships in the Adriatic and Royal Air Force planes patrolling the no-fly zone and monitoring the area on a 24-hour basis. We shall continue to be involved and it is unspeakable even to contemplate that we should welsh on our agreed commitments and leave our allies in the lurch when the going starts to get a little tougher.

No, the time has come when we should be resolute, robust and take a firm line of action. It is not the time to shirk the fight, and if we must fight to achieve the aim, it must be remembered that we shall be fighting for the very existence and survival of NATO. NATO, and Britain as part of that organisation, have issued the ultimatum and it is vital that we support it.

I have served with the United Nations and have some experience of safe havens, protected areas and frontiers or divided boundaries between hostile communities. The NATO ultimatum should result in the establishment of such areas. In any United Nations operation there are some common essential ingredients, one of which is that the UN aim must be concise and clear and understood by all ranks on all sides.

A second essential ingredient is to ensure that any United Nations force is deployed in sufficient strength and with sufficient weaponry and has the resolve, determination and will to achieve its aim. It must be able to fight and win in any hostile confrontations. But I must sound a word of warning. To establish safe havens and protected areas is extremely expensive in manpower terms, which in this case could be in the region of an additional 55,000 to 60,000 troops, a large portion of which would have to be drawn from other countries.

Another essential ingredient is to ensure that there is an effective command structure with excellent communications; and surely the time has come to reorganise the geographical command structure within Bosnia. Additional two-star subordinate command areas should be established in Bosnia in accordance with any plan that General Rose proposes. There must be no political interference with the tactical command structures and plans devised by the UN Commander in Bosnia.

I now turn to the ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs, which will expire at midnight on 20th February, just over six days from now. There are only two options open to the Bosnian Serbs: they either defy the ultimatum or they comply with it. However, it is of concern that it is unclear at the moment what strategy will be adopted by the United Nations and NATO if the ultimatum is defied and air strikes have been carried out. Presumably there are contingency plans to be implemented and it would be insecure to announce future strategy at this stage. So far the actions taken begin to look as if the Bosnian Serbs may comply with the ultimatum, or is this merely a symbolic gesture? Compliance has to be full compliance and this means removing all heavy weapons, either handing them over to UN control or for the Bosnian Serbs to remove them to outside the 20-kilometre exclusion zone.

If they comply with the ultimatum it is assumed that UN momentum will be maintained and, apart from the collection and control of the heavy weapons, large reinforcements will be required to police and control the city of Sarajevo; to patrol and observe the 20-kilometre perimeter of the Sarajevo exclusion zone; and to defend and protect, with force if necessary, the Serbian villages within the exclusion zone which will probably become safe havens.

If that operation is successful, a similar strategy should be adopted as soon as possible over Tuzla, Gorazde, Srebrenica and Bihac, the other UN-designated safe areas. All those operations may require large reinforcements, but it is to be hoped that it will lead to an overall peace agreement. I believe that reinforcement should start now as this would indicate that the UN and NATO are being realistic about the ultimatum and that it is not just another idle threat. It should also allow the military commanders on the ground considerably more flexibility for their planning and future operations.

However, if the Bosnian Serbs do not comply with the ultimatum and NATO air strikes are carried out, massive reinforcement will have to take place, some of which will probably come from the United Kingdom. The war would be likely to escalate, with Serbs bringing heavy artillery barrages down on Sarajevo, showing the world their contempt for the UN and NATO and that they can defy these all-powerful world organisations. In this case there may well be no other alternative than for land and air forces to clear the Sarajevo exclusion zone by force. The aim must be maintained and in this case ground forces will be required to provide the fire and movement to achieve the aim.

What will be the effect of all of this on the British Army? Currently the Army, like the other armed services, is still being reduced to its Options for Change target figure of only 122,000 troops. The strength of the Army has already reached a figure just below 131,000. It will be inevitable that Britain will have to provide some of the reinforcement I have referred to either through the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps or from within United Kingdom Land Forces. However, the plain fact is that we can only provide teeth arm units at the expense of a further decrease in the time spent between emergency six-month tours, which now stands at around 15 months as opposed to the agreed two years between tours.

Many of your Lordships have advised Her Majesty's Government that the Armed Forces are being reduced too much. In fact on frequent occasions the Government have been advised to cease all proposed cuts to the armed services in view of the uncertainties and dangers that exist in this unstable world today. Currently the Army is so overstretched that regimental and battalion establishments have to be increased for operational deployments by one complete company or squadron from a different regiment before they are capable of carrying out their tasks. That is a deplorable state of affairs and badly affects other battalions, which have to lose a company in these circumstances. The situation is becoming ludicrous and the Government should make every effort to increase these establishments now.

The Secretary of State is on record as saying that should world events deteriorate, force levels would be reviewed. I believe that the events in the world have deteriorated and that those force levels should be reviewed now. As a result of such a review, surely Her Majesty's Government: should increase the overall establishment of the Army to around 135,000 and abandon any further cuts. Without taking action to increase the Army establishment, and with the possibility of additional units probably being deployed to Bosnia, regiments will become even more overstretched than they are now, leading to a further deterioration in morale. However, any regiment sent to Bosnia will carry out its duties superbly and there will be no loss of morale once deployed; but it is morally wrong of Her Majesty's Government to over-commit the Army causing significant overstretch when the establishment could easily be increased at a cost of probably no more than half a per cent. of GDP, bringing the Defence Vote up from 3.5 per cent. to 4 per cent. Surely it is not too much to ask the Government to increase the Defence Vote, with additional funds to provide additional troops for the presumably forthcoming further commitments in Bosnia.

In conclusion, NATO must follow up its ultimatum in a robust manner and take firm action. It must issue a clear and strong overall strategy beyond the implementation of air strikes. The future is likely to demand heavy military reinforcement of peacekeepers from many UN countries. The United Kingdom is likely to provide additional combat and support troops which will cause disastrous and impossible overstretch to the Army if its establishment is not increased to around 135,000, which is a figure that I and many of your Lordships have consistently advised in this House.

6.27 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I should like to say a few words this evening about the United Nations and about the inconsistencies in government policy. I shall also look into the background of the situation in Bosnia with a view to thinking a little about the future. I hope that I am not being over-ambitious in that aspiration. However, I suspect that, as in so many matters to do with Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia, over-ambition is a risk that we have to take.

I welcome the debate especially because it gives us the opportunity to declare our support for the United Nations. Many speakers mentioned the involvement of NATO. I must admit that I am a little concerned about expressing support for NATO's involvement in the Bosnian situation. I say that because if one looks back over the past few years one can see the proliferation of quite a large number of organisations, countries and groups of countries that have been involved in the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. Indeed, as someone pointed out only the other day, it has been like Fred Karno's circus in that we have had Britain, France and Germany as individual countries involved, riot to mention those on the other side of the former Iron Curtain; we have had NATO; we have had the European Community before it became the European Union; and we have had the United Nations. All those organisations or countries have been involved in one way or another. I suspect that that is part of the reason: fir the difficulties that we find ourselves in today.

One of the key phrases used by the Minister in her opening speech— indeed, it is very apt to the whole debate— was that a civil war cannot be ended by outside intervention. In making that statement, I suspect the noble Baroness set a scene. It is interesting to compare the conflict in Bosnia — and in the wider former Yugoslavia— with domestic or family conflict. Some years ago domestic conflict and violence were considered not the province of our police forces. In the international sphere the United Nations Charter forbade involvement in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. Over the years that situation has changed. We now consider domestic violence to be something that we will not tolerate and our police intervene and charge the perpetrators.

We have not yet reached that stage in world affairs, but we are rapidly getting there. As the situation in Yugoslavia developed, we saw the recognition of parts of the former Yugoslavia, for example Slovenia and Croatia, and active involvement in what were effectively the internal affairs of a sovereign country, namely, Yugoslavia, by the United Nations and various other bodies. We are not prepared now to stand idly by and we condemn violence, but we are still a little reluctant to intervene. However, that position is changing. I hope we will riot accept the precept of this Government that we cannot end a civil war by outside intervention. The implication is that we cannot end domestic violence or conflict by outside intervention. That is not acceptable. What we can recognise is that we do not have the will to intervene to end a civil conflict.

I would like now to consider how the conflict started and what lessons we can learn from seeking to resolve it in the longer term. Some noble Lords have gone back into history — almost pre-history— and have talked about the inherent conflicts between people of different religious affiliations. I would hope we could recognise that the rise in unemployment and the reduction in comparative living standards was a fundamental cause of the instability and the break-up of Yugoslavia. I hope we can recognise that those same problems of redundancy and the lowering of incomes can cause similar problems on the domestic front, in terms of the: family context that I mentioned but also in other areas of the international scene.

That analysis gives some pointers for policy. First, we should ensure as far as possible that we do not, by fiscal, economic and trade policies, contribute to unemployment and to a reduction in living standards anywhere. Secondly, to ensure a long-term peaceful future we must recognise that everyone in Bosnia, whether of Croatian or of Serbian origin, or whatever faction they may belong to, all have something positive to contribute to the future of a peaceful and prosperous community. We should develop policies to aid that end objective. If we demonise any one part of the community that makes up Bosnia, we shall store up problems for the future.

I am concerned by the following matter. Having recognised Bosnia de facto if not de jure, why do not the British Government, through the UN, provide assistance to the Government of Bosnia to protect their territorial integrity from incursion by Croatia and Serbia? Why do we continue to support the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in his plans for the effective dismemberment of Bosnia? What plans do the Government have to support the peaceful development of the various parts of the former Yugoslavia based, I hope— for them to be effective— on concepts of full employment and equitable distribution of income for everyone?

I am not hopeful of a positive answer to that final question because the policies that this Government employ domestically exacerbate the problem by creating unemployment and the inequities of income distribution that have occurred over the past 15 years. Therefore, I do not believe the Government are in a strong position to suggest actions to resolve problems in other parts of the world. However, I throw in that question in the hope that someone in the Foreign Office may be looking more positively at what can be done in a world context than is the case with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary as regards looking at what can be done in the domestic situation.

6.36 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I am glad that this is a government Motion being debated in government time. I listened with interest to the introduction of the noble Baroness. Nevertheless I regret that Her Majesty's Government continually refer to civil war in Bosnia. To get a proper perspective I believe it is necessary to look at the whole sequence of events since the break-up of the old Federal Republic of Yugoslavia became violent.

The first move was the attack by the Serb-led Yugoslav National Army on Slavonia. When this was repulsed, the same forces attacked Croatia and seized large parts of eastern and central Slavonia and of the Krajina, amounting to one-third of the whole of Croatia, causing massive destruction of property and displacement of people. To this day— here I follow the noble Lords, Lord Beloff and Lord Mackie of Benshie— towns such as Vukovar and Osijek are still largely in ruins. During this war the same forces, as a diversion, wantonly bombarded the world-famous Dalmatian city of Dubrovnik, the so-called pearl of the Adriatic.

After the ceasefire and the introduction of UNPROFOR into Croatia, the same forces in April and May 1992 invaded Bosnia and Herzegovina. By then, of course, the Yugoslav National Army was mainly Serb and Montenegrin in membership but it was assisted by Serb irregulars recruited both from within and from outside Bosnia. These forces have killed tens of thousands of people, largely civilians. They have driven out hundreds of thousands from Bosnia and Herzegovina alone. It was they who set up concentration camps and followed a deliberate policy of mass rape in order to victimise and humiliate the other communities and to promote their vile concept of ethnic purity.

So far the Serbs have seized over two-thirds of the Bosnian land, whereas their share of the population was about 30 per cent. and between a quarter and 30 per cent. of all marriages used to be between members of different communities and traditions. These facts explain why the United Nations imposed sanctions on the "rump" Yugoslavia alone: that is to say, on Serbia and Montenegro only. It is because of these facts that the United Nations Secretary-General said in measured terms in London in August 1992— and I quote him— The territories of the former Yugoslavia, now locked in military confrontation, have been recognised by the international community and have taken their places in the General Assembly of the United Nations as Member States. This then is an international conflict. That is why I disagree so strongly with the civil war thesis. We have witnessed deliberate aggression and planned genocide. We have seen a consistent effort to create a Greater Serbia. This should be resisted because if it were successful it would without doubt be followed by demands for a Greater Hungary, a Greater Albania and a Greater Russia. The ensuing mischief would know no bounds.

Of course there are some grounds for describing the present fighting as having some aspects of a civil war. The participants indeed speak the same language. The Serbs certainly had bitter memories of their sufferings in 1941 and 1942 and also in the First World War. This makes their behaviour a little more understandable, but in no wise excusable. Of course the Bosnian Moslems and Croats have committed atrocities; of course they have destroyed whole villages, killing and expelling their inhabitants. It would be surprising if they had not, after what has been inflicted on them. It is incumbent upon us, however, to look beyond the appearances, to establish the truth and to act so as to protect the future of Europe and of the world.

It is our duty and our interest to ensure that aggression and genocide are as little rewarded as possible. That is why it is so important to develop a coherent, internationally agreed and long-term policy for the former Yugoslavia and for the whole of the Balkans. That is why I so much regret the lack of unity up to now of the great powers and of the Western democracies. That is why I regard the so-called mediation at Geneva and elsewhere as a pretence, as a cloak for disunity and as something which must be superseded rather soon. I say that without in the least detracting from the integrity of the mediators.

In forming a long-term policy it is usually helpful to have an historical perspective. The river Drina marked, I believe, the boundary between the eastern and western Roman Empires. This ancient frontier still separates Serbia from Bosnia-Herzegovina. From the high middle ages onwards, Bosnia and the neighbouring duchy formed one unit. For four centuries under the Turks they remained a frontier unit of the Ottoman Empire, where Christians, Moslems and Jews co-existed. After the Congress of Berlin, Austria-Hungary continued to administer Bosnia-Herzegovina as one unit. Under both royalist and Titoist Yugoslavia the territory preserved its integrity and its plural life. This is a truly amazing instance of administrative and social continuity from the early 14th century until about two years ago.

So, for reasons of history and because of the deep-rooted tradition of tolerance and mutual respect, and of recent intermarriages, I and many others wish to see Bosnia-Herzegovina continue as a single unit. The proof that Bosnians can still co-exist is to be found among the heroic inhabitants and defenders of Sarajevo — still a mixed city despite the agonies of a siege lasting nearly two years. Further proof exists in the mixed city of Tuzla, where over a quarter of a million people still respect each other's rights without violence, despite acute shortages of food and fuel. Incidentally, the Moslem-Croat military alliance still holds in this part of the country despite what has happened elsewhere.

Given the deaths and widespread suffering that have occurred, your Lordships may well ask how the unity of Bosnia is to be preserved. I suggest that the Security Council will have to be persuaded that unity is a just outcome and one that is likely to be permanent. At first, I think that some form of supra-national authority would be necessary for Bosnia. Whether this should be called a United Nations trusteeship or an interim administration is a matter for discussion. It would be needed for a considerable period of years. It would assume initial responsibility for all government functions, including defence and policing. Its task would be to oversee the long, slow process of restoring secular, plural and decentralised democracy.

In addition there is a pressing need for reconstruction and economic development. This would have to be generously funded by the richer countries of the world, particularly the Western ones and the Middle Eastern oil producers. In fact this combination is now beginning to co-operate over the situation in Gaza, Jericho and the occupied territories. Similar co-operation, I suggest, will be necessary over Bosnia major investment in infrastructure and housing in both Palestine and Bosnia could help create employment for the many jobless in Europe and in the Middle East.

Serbia and Croatia have both, in different ways, over-reached themselves. Both will, I trust, come at least to acquiesce in the plan I have outlined. It is in their long-term interests to have an independent, prosperous and reconstructed country between them. In return for acceptance, they could expect the lifting of sanctions and economic restrictions, together with generous funding for the many refugees and displaced people on their own territories. If a large number of those who are presently displaced were enabled to return to their homes in Bosnia, the problems of both Serbia and Croatia would be greatly eased.

The alternatives to a coherent long-term policy are truly horrible. They include festering refugee problems, the spread of existing fighting, the involvement of more Islamic mujahideen or the intervention of other powers such as Turkey. NATO, the Council of Europe, the CSCE and even the European Union could all find themselves in a state of institutional chaos, while the impotence of the United Nations would have been made clear. If, on the other hand, the political will can be found to design and apply a sound long-term policy, religion could come to the aid of statesmanship. Following the successful conclusion in 1993 of the Year of Inter-religious Co-operation, the Catholic, Orthodox and Moslem leaderships, as was perhaps indicated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, should, combine to support a wise political strategy. Let us try to make of Bosnia a model for South Eastern Europe. We should, I believe, make plans now, remembering that it was in 1943 and 1944, before the end of the Second World War, that the basic designs of the United Nations, Bretton Woods and GATT were conceived. Peace building, I believe, should start even before wars come to an end.

6.49 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, were completely apposite and his description of the Serbs' actions was exact. I have just one minor criticism to make, which is purely a "show off" point. A unified Bosnian kingdom survived under a gentleman called Ban Kulin, who reigned from 1180 to 1204.

Whether what I have to say will have any effect on the suffering of the people of Bosnia or will alleviate the pain of the citizens of Sarajevo I doubt. Furthermore, I do not relish what I am about to say. The policies of Her Majesty's Government have added to that pain and suffering. They have been the prime, movers in preventing the Bosnians from helping themselves" and judging by at least one of the Prime Minister's statements, those policies have been based on ignorance. For instance, on 23rd June 1993 in the Official Report, Commons, he stated at col.324, The biggest single element behind what has happened in Bosnia is the collapse of the Soviet Union and of the discipline that that exerted over ancient hatreds in the old Yugoslavia". Did someone not tell the Prime Minister that Stalin expelled Tito from the Comintern in 1948 and that several NATO war games foresaw the possible Russian invasion of Yugoslavia to reimpose that discipline? Furthermore, the policies of Her Majesty's Government seem to lack consistency. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said on "The World at One" on 6th February, The Serbs have actually occupied the land they want". He continued, At the end of the day there will have to be a negotiated! settlement. No one is actually going to win this war". I interpret that as saying that the Serbs have won all they want: all that we have now to do is to closet them with the Bosnian Government in a carriage M the Forest of Compiegne to make sure that they sign on the dotted line. However, for our own face-saving purposes, we must disguise the Bosnian surrender as a compromise so that we can hide European impotence, ignore American hypocrisy and just pack up our tents and forget the whole beastly business.

Previously in your Lordships' House I have suggested that what we and the UN are doing in Bosnia is the worst of all possible worlds. John Simpson showed in this week's Spectator how the United Nations is conniving with the Serbs in the siege of Sarajevo. Lawrence Freedman in The Times on Saturday put forward the theory that the US agreed to persuade NATO to carry out bombing of the Serb guns to cover its retreat from the area in the same way that President Nixon bombed Hanoi and Haiphong to conceal the US defeat in Vietnam.

As has already been said, large amounts of aid— the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, referred to 50 per cent.; I had not heard that figure before, although I had certainly heard the figure of 40 per cent. or 25 per cent. — go to feed and fuel the warring parties, mostly Serbs. The Croats are blatantly pouring troops into Bosnia and the arms blockade has little or no effect on Serbian fighting ability as they inherited something like 500 or 600 tanks from the old federal army. However, it stops the legitimate Bosnian Government recognised by the United Nations from getting heavy weapons. It cannot obtain heavy weapons; it can only smuggle in light weapons.

I pause to observe that we lifted the arms embargo from the Angolan Government just before Christmas. The Angolan Government are fighting a very nasty civil war with Mr. Jonas Savimbi. Those fighters were armed by allies of ourselves until quite recently. That civil war is very much nastier than what is going on in Bosnia.

The Bosnian Government is incidentally led by a man who has written in a book published in the early 1980s called Islam Between East and West that, Islam was a spiritual synthesis between East and West". He spoke highly of the Renaissance and its painting, and approvingly of Anglo-Saxon philosophy and culture. He is clearly not a fundamentalist modelled on Cairo assassins or Persian mullahs as he is depicted by Serb propaganda. It is also worth pointing out that both Milosevic and Tudjman are hard core ex-communist opportunists. It is also worth remembering that when two years ago Mr. Milosevic went to Kosovo he had pictures painted of himself and Jesus carrying the bones of Prince Lazar, a Serbian Tsar who was defeated in the battle of the killing fields in 1389. He is therefore an opportunist, dishonest and a thoroughly unpleasant man, from Mr. Izetbegovic's description.

The Serbs plotted and armed themselves long before the break up of Yugoslavia milosevic grabbed the federal budget. The Serbs burnt the great library in Sarajevo. They have bulldozed and destroyed mosques and suggested that the Moslems should all be repatriated to Anatolia. I leave aside the ethnic cleansing upon which so many noble Lords have already spoken. Mr. Karadzic declared autonomous regions, armed the local Bosnian Serbs, asked for Serb protection and created incidents all in collusion with Milosevic, long before the war broke out.

Let us also remember that on the day of international recognition 100,000 Bosnians of all religions and creeds went on to the streets in Sarajevo and were addressed by a speaker whose theme was, "Let all Serb chauvinists depart to Serbia and all Croat chauvinists depart to Croatia. We want to remain, and we want to keep Bosnia as well". Those people all demonstrated from multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Bosnia.

I have been well briefed for this speech by a book soon to be published by Noel Malcolm, which describes in great detail the facts of the war, its causes and course. All his facts are well researched. They all have source notes. He shows, for instance, that the BBC referred to the Bosnian Government almost from the beginning as a warring faction, so equating it with the Serbian ethnic cleansers. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary referred to the conflict as a civil war when it is a rebellion, armed, encouraged and directed from outside. He also stated in an article in the Mail on Sunday that there is ample justification for resistance, but went on to say that it should not happen.

The Vance-Owen plan admitted to the establishment of an apartheid in Bosnia— ethnic cantons or separate development, call it what one will. That gave the Serbs enough gain to make the Moslems believe that the Serbs were being rewarded for their aggression, and the Serbs agreed and so pushed for more— which is exactly what happened. It also exacerbated the differences between the shaky Croat-Moslem alliance, which soon broke.

It is into that cauldron that the UN place lightly armed troops who can be held hostage if any action is taken by NATO, so possibly forcing an ignominious evacuation or a massive escalation. The whole sorry story has been a discredit to all governments: the British Government for serious feebleness; the Germans for even greater feebleness; the French for slightly less feebleness and the United States for being run by CNN. The Americans are always urging action provided that they can stay at 30,000 feet. A country internationally recognised has ceased to exist. There have been 150,000 people killed and a million refugees created by the dreadful cocktail of Western wetness and Serbian evil. If the Serbs do not raise the siege of Sarajevo and pull back their heavy weapons, but are then bombed into doing so, it will be obvious that Bosnia could have been saved earlier. We shall therefore have left undone that which we ought to have done, and will have done that which we ought not to have done and there is no health in us. But unfortunately we are not ashamed of ourselves as we should be.

6.59 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, one's admiration for British and indeed French troops and aid workers in Bosnia, and for those from other Western European countries, is only by matched by one's lack of admiration— I put it as politely as possible— for the role played by Western European governments in general and the British Government in particular for bringing us to where we are today, and in that I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. I say "Western European governments" advisedly rather than "Western governments" because I agree with the Americans that Bosnia is in Europe and therefore it is essentially a European matter, to be settled mainly by Europeans.

There was a perfectly respectable case to be made for total non-intervention, letting the combatants slug it out. However, that course of action, or inaction, was never followed. Instead, we had partial intervention which favoured, accidentally no doubt, the aggressor. An arms embargo designed for a different country— the former Yugoslavia— was craftily extended to Bosnia, a country recognised by the United Nations, in the full knowledge that the Serb aggressors had access to all the arms and ammunition they could possibly need. This thereby wrecked the balance of power and facilitated Serb conquests.

That policy has been defended on the grounds that, by allowing an aggressor to achieve his territorial ambitions as speedily as possible and encouraging the defender to resign himself to the fait accompli, one will thereby save tens of thousands of civilian lives which might be lost if the balance of power were more equal and the defender were accordingly more inspired to go on fighting. That could be true, one might well save more civilian lives that way, though one cannot be certain how things would have turned out. However, it was also the argument convincingly and perhaps sincerely, for all I know, deployed by Marshal Pertain in 1940. Millions of Frenchmen agreed with him at the time, but with hindsight I do not think that very many would do so now.

It was also argued that if the embargo were relaxed, the Russians would supply the Serbs, but so well armed were the Serbs already that the only thing that the Russians could usefully have supplied them with would have been hydrogen bombs.

The obsession with maintaining the embargo seemed to be accompanied by the tacit acceptance of much of the rebel Serbs' black propaganda against the Moslems. I say "rebel Serbs" because there are many Serbs who support the Bosnian Government. There was the suggestion that the easy-going, slivovitz-sipping Moslems were at heart Islamic fundamentalists. I do not think I need remind your Lordships that the Bosnian flag depicts the fleur-de-lis— hardly a symbol of militant Islam.

The Serbs also claim that the Moslems are interlopers with no real right to be in central Europe, less than 250 miles south of Vienna. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, effectively reminded us what nonsense such an argument is. There is no need to repeat his history lesson, except to say that these people have been, whether as heretical Christians or later as Moslems, in situ for over a thousand years.

Moreover, although it is easy to be starry-eyed about the degree of mutual tolerance existing between different ethnic, religious or linguistic groups in various parts of the world, Bosnia seemed to be almost unique in that respect, if not always in rural districts then certainly in Sarajevo. There, as we have been reminded,29 per. cent. of marriages were between people of different faiths. One would certainly never find that degree of intermarriage in Montreal, Belfast, Nicosia or Beirut.

The legitimate government of Bosnia, which until recently had a Christian majority, if one must use religious terms, is now, with the connivance of the BBC, reduced by the British establishment to just one of the "warring factions". Some, like the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, with whom I so often agree, but not on this occasion, suggest that it is simply a straightforward civil war. However, he may have forgotten or may never have known that maps showing plans for a greater Serbia and displaying in detail plans for the partition of Bosnia and the allocation to Moslems of less than 10 per cent. of the territory were circulating in Belgrade over five years ago. That is long before the war started, so there is nothing spontaneous about the so-called civil war. The aggression has been planned for a long time.

We are also told: "All sides have committed atrocities". That is true, but off-hand I cannot think of anywhere in the world where atrocities committed by one side have not led to reprisals by the other. Serb atrocities are the more numerous and vicious. Even if that were not the case, he who commits the first atrocity is surely the more culpable.

It is perhaps true that Serbs have a legitimate cause for anxiety— probably their only legitimate cause for anxiety — in the high Moslem birth rate. In that, they resemble Ulster Protestants, Lebanese Roman Catholics, native Fijians on Fiji and Europeans in various parts of the world. They all fear being outnumbered in areas where they once predominated.

However, none of that anxiety remotely justifies the type of ethnic cleansing carried out by Serb rebels. Ethnic cleansing is not a new concept, unfortunately. It has occurred all too often this century, since 1945 alone in Sudetenland, Palestine, various parts of Africa and Cyprus, to name but a few. But in Bosnia it has been carried out with particular cruelty.

What has happened has happened, of course. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to recreate the kind of Yugoslavia, in particular Croatia and Bosnia, which I first came across 42 years ago this March. There was the physical and perhaps even spiritual perfection of Dubrovnik, the elegance of the old Turkish bridge at Mostar and the grace of the minarets 'which adorned so many cities and towns in the centre and south of the country. Nor can one bring back to life the 170,000— some say quarter of a million— people who have died. Humpty-Dumpty probably cannot now be put together again.

But, having partly intervened to the accidental benefit of the aggressor, one cannot simply shrug one' s shoulders now and say: "Tough, but Realpolitik " — which in this case means sucking up to the mendicant Russians— "dictates that the present situation is the lesser of two evils". One cannot go on to claim that in some undefined way Western Europe's actions have prevented the war from spreading: after all, Macedonia is a quite separate issue. Realpolitik may dictate quite the opposite. Now that the West has belatedly taken action to counter some of the malign consequences of its arms embargo— and let there be no more empty threats, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Brarriall has urged, threats which cause the Serbs to despise and under-rate the West— now that that has happened, the West must follow things through. It must not only guarantee the safety of Sarajevo, the one place in Bosnia where a plural and tolerant society is still possible, but for the sake of future European peace as well as justice, assuming that some kind of partition takes place— and I feel that it probably will— the West must ensure that the Moslems have an adequately large and economically viable area in which to live, with a guaranteed exit to the sea.

It is no good assuming that the Islamic world will simply yawn and forget about the matter within a fortnight if nothing is done. Can anyone suppose that the murder of Christians in Algeria and Egypt has nothing to do with Bosnia? Can anyone suppose that the alarming growing power of semi-fundamentalist religious parties in Turkey has nothing to do with Bosnia? The Independent today predicted that they would obtain 25 per cent. of the vote in the next elections, as opposed to merely 12 per cent. recently. Can anyone assume that that has nothing to do with Bosnia? Of course not.

It is no good assuming that, if nothing is done, the younger Bosnian Moslems will simply shrug their shoulders and accept the status quo. Armenian terrorists are still assassinating Turkish diplomats almost 79 years after the massacres and deportations in Eastern Turkey of 1915. Palestinian terrorism is still a reality, even if we hope it may diminish as a result of recent accords. However, most Palestinians and many Armenians are physically conspicuous in a Western European crowd. Hence, for them, terrorist activity is even riskier than would otherwise be the case. In contrast, Bosnian Moslems are European. They look European, and blend easily into the scenery. The capacity of people with a powerful sense of grievance to cause havoc for years, possibly decades, among those who they feel stabbed them in the back or, at best, badly let them down should not be underestimated. Prudence as well as justice dictates that we should help the Moslems to survive and thrive in Bosnia.

7.10 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, perhaps I may first apologise for being a few minutes late for the debate. It was because I had been advised that the earlier business would take rather longer than it did. I hope that I shall not, as a result of missing the first few minutes of the Minister's speech, put a question to her that she has already answered.

Like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for ensuring time for the debate. It is long overdue, but, as it happens, it is very timely. We are at a turning point. No doubt that has been said before. There have been a number of occasions when attempts to reach a negotiated settlement looked like a turning point. But in the end they led to just another breakdown and, sadly, a further escalation of the conflict.

It is, however, a turning point, when NATO at last takes a decision to issue an ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs that air strikes will be mounted against them if they do not move their heavy weapons at least 20 kilometres from the centre of Sarajevo. The Minister told the House last Thursday that the Government had been ready to consider air power since last August. In that case, why did the British Government not press for the ultimatum much sooner? That seems a rather more pertinent question than the one put by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and my noble friend Lord Stoddart as to why the Government have changed their mind.

For many months now the safe havens policy has been a sick joke. It has gone unobserved by the warring parties, with the resolutions of the European Union, the United Nations and NATO unimplemented, and the international community apparently helpless, divided and indecisive. Meanwhile, civilians continue to be slaughtered, particularly by Serb bombardments of Sarajevo. The Minister says that the Government were ready and willing to consider the use of air power from August. But no action was taken, and the UK Government appear to have been one of the main blocks to such action.

Throughout the period— indeed since last April— the Labour Party has called for the implementation of UN resolutions, including air strikes and the enforcement of the no-fly zone. Belatedly, action is now being taken. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, I welcome it. No doubt the Minister will in reply tell the House the latest position. I understand that some weapons have been handed over to UN forces but that the Serbs have moved some heavy artillery to their own bases within the 20 kilometre border, claiming that that is all that is required so long as they are under UN supervision. Can the Minister confirm that? And can she tell the House whether there is any dispute between the NATO command, the UN on the ground, as to how to handle the situation? Can she also tell the House what is the response of the international community to the claim of the Bosnian Serbs that they cannot hand over weapons because of the licence that that would provide to the Bosnian Government infantry?

Today, there is a debate in the Security Council in which I understand as many as 40 different countries are intending to speak. France and the USA have already announced that there should be no extension of the deadline in the ultimatum. Can the Minister confirm that that is also the position of the United Kingdom Government and that that will be made clear at the UN debate? I assume that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, on their visit to Moscow, will discuss Bosnia with President Yeltsin. Like the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I attach great importance to their trying to gain Russian support for the current policy. No doubt they will explain to President Yeltsin that it is not a matter of taking sides but of implementing UN resolutions with a view to ending the war.

The ultimatum, of course, concerns the siege of Sarajevo. As the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, pointed out, there are a number of other so-called safe areas, as well as the continuing problem of the closed airport at Tuzla which has blocked aid supplies for many months. Can the Minister put more flesh on her answer to the House last Thursday on Tuzla airport when she repeated the statement that pressure would be exerted to open it but did not say how? According to reports today, only 20 per cent. of needed aid supplies are getting through. Can she also give some indication of what plans there are to make the other safe areas genuinely safe?

We on these Benches recognise the very important role that the humanitarian aid programme has played in saving many thousands of lives. We salute the bravery of UN forces, including British soldiers, in their dangerous and difficult task of protecting the aid convoys and trying to keep the routes open. We are also fully aware of the dangers to the workers themselves, so tragically highlighted by the brutal murder of a British worker a couple of weeks ago. We also accept, although most reluctantly, that it may be necessary to suspend some of those operations temporarily.

There have already been rumours of threats of hostage taking and of blocking the exit routes of aid workers. We unequivocally condemn such threats and hope that none of the warring parties have any such intentions. I would not expect the Minister to give details of the reorganisation and redeployment of British troops or British aid workers in the event of air strikes being necessary. But I would be glad to have her reassurance that every precaution is being taken to ensure their safety.

I now turn to the question of sanctions. The Labour Party consistently advocated the imposition of sanctions some time before the Government accepted their necessity. Since their introduction we have pressed for tougher implementation. Economic pressure on Serbia should have started earlier; it should have been more intense.

For some time we have also been calling for sanctions against Croatia. The Croatian Government have cynically ignored the wishes of the international community by continuing to pour Croatian troops into southern and western areas of Bosnia. Thursday's Statement referred to, taking an increasingly firm position … [on] warning off the Croatian regular army from, entering the war on the side of the Bosnian Croats". What does this firmer position amount to? We are entitled to know. Do the Government support the implementation of economic sanctions against Croatia, or not? We are well aware of Chancellor Kohl's opposition. But does he call all the shots on this matter, as he did over the foolish and premature recognition of Croatia which set us on the road to the disaster which we now face in Bosnia? My noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon mentioned that point, and I believe it was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter.

I do not wish to go back over the past history of this tragedy other than to say that a series of strategic mistakes of a political kind have been made at crucial moments. Nor do I wish to say that all the mistakes lie with the European Union or in the UN. It was, for example, unwise of the Bosnian Government to hold a referendum on independence when it was bound to be boycotted by the Bosnian Serbs and then to seek independence on the basis of that result. It would have been better had Bosnia instead become a UN protectorate. Had that happened, some of the horrors of ethnic cleansing and wanton killing might have been avoided.

There is, however, little point now in regretting what did or did not happen in the past, although of course we must learn from those mistakes. We must learn from them in relation to Macedonia and also Kosovo. So far the conflict has been contained, and we strongly support the CSCE and UN presence in Macedonia. We believe that it should be maintained. I was glad to hear that there is to be an increase in aid for Macedonia. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, mentioned Kosovo. We favour continuing pressure on the Serbs to cease their persecution of the Albanian majority in Kosovo, which is a further threat to the stability of the area.

Before turning to the vital question of a political settlement for Bosnia, I should like to mention briefly the question of refugees, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Thousands have been displaced by the war. Indeed, a substantial part of the aid effort is about feeding people forced to leave their homes and seek refuge where they believe they will be safer. There are substantial numbers of Bosnian refugees outside Bosnia. If there is to be a more permanent ceasefire and it becomes easier for those remaining to leave, one can expect pressures from many more refugees. Can the Minister tell the House what plans have been made to cope with such pressures and whether the UK Government will agree to a more generous refugee policy than it had at the early stage of this conflict?

In opening the debate the Minister stated that it was not possible to end the conflict by force and that a political solution must be found. We accept that a negotiated peace is the only way to end the carnage. We are also most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and Mr. Stoltenberg for trying to achieve that. What we have disputed is the possibility of reaching a negotiated peace as one side or the other continues to ignore United Nations' resolutions and uses every opportunity to exploit temporary advantages by the use of force, regrettably often directed at civilians.

It is also argued that the failure to take a firm stand on Sarajevo has meant that the Serbs have been allowed to believe that they can gel: away with almost anything. Last week's NATO decision represents, I hope, a more decisive and firmer approach from now on, instead of the shilly-shallying and lack of vision that have predominated until now.

Assuming, as we must all passionately hope, that the Serbs accept the ultimatum and withdraw, immediate steps must then be taken to secure the long-term demilitarisation of Sarajevo and the installation of a United Nations' administration there.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is the noble Baroness advocating that the capital of an independently recognised state, recognised by the United Nations, should be annexed by the United Nations and that that country should be deprived of its capital?

Baroness Blackstone

No, my Lords. What I am suggesting is that, until there has been a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the current conflict in Bosnia, the capital of Sarajevo should be under United Nations' administration. I hope that I have made that clear.

After that, there must surely be either a concentrated effort to protect the other five safe areas, or the policy should be abandoned. Perhaps the Minister can state the Government's view. The Secretary General of the United Nations has been asking for more troops for many months. As the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, implied, member states should respond to his request. Perhaps may add that it would be particularly helpful if the US Government took the lead in doing so, with the clear understanding that it is part of a limited objective to secure those areas as genuinely safe.

We must also get the parties back round the table and try again to get them to reach agreement. We on these Benches deplore the position taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who yet again, a week ago, called for a lifting of the arms embargo. How can pouring more arms into Bosnia possibly help in bringing about an end to this war? No, the way to help the Moslems is by supporting at the negotiating table their legitimate claims for a viable state, even though the territory allocated to them may well have to fall short of what they believe it should be.

Finally, it is our hope that air strikes will not be necessary but that if they are, NATO and the United Nations will remain united in their determination to lift the siege of Sarajevo and that they will be successful in bringing that about. However, it will be far better if the Serbs accept the ultimatum and the siege is lifted as a result of that acceptance. That will be a first step, and I stress only a first step, towards a more resolute determination of the international community to bring this terrible conflict to an end, something which most of us can agree must be our aim.

I regret that I cannot agree with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that it is not in our national interests to play our part in the United Nations and NATO in this intervention. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, rightly said, it is in our wider interests in the new world order to end this conflict. It will require both courage and vision, which have been all too sadly lacking up to now.

7.26 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her last remarks, with most of which I agree entirely. I well understand that she may have been detained elsewhere but I am glad that she has caught up with the information that I had given about Macedonia. In fact that was that we were doubling our assistance to Macedonia, which I was very pleased to do.

When this House debates a major issue, great minds and long experience are brought to bear. Today has been no exception. In closing the debate I shall attempt to respond to as many as possible of the points made by noble Lords, but I know your Lordships will understand if I have to write to some of you. There have been so many different points made during the last three and a half hours.

Let me take first the political matters. Several noble Lords sought to argue that the Government had made a decision which came too late. I might remind the House, as I believe I did last Thursday— in fact the noble Baroness reminded me of it— that we have consistently supported the use of air power provided that it would support and not undermine the peace process and the aid effort. I believe that it was the whole question of the margin of balance that was so difficult for many countries to achieve. But, together with our NATO allies, we accept that there is absolutely no doubt that the shelling of Sarajevo demands the strongest response. That is why the decision passed the test that to issue this ultimatum would do more good than harm. That was a point referred to by the right reverend Prelate in his speech.

Our support for air power is not new. It was the British Prime Minister who suggested it to President Clinton last May. The concept became part of the Security Council Resolution 836 on safe areas and the NATO close air support for UNPROFOR has been available and used since June last year. We fully supported the NATO decisions on air strikes, made last August, and it was our Prime Minister's initiative together with Prime Minister Balladur of France which led to NATO's summit decision in January on our readiness to use air power in Srebrenica and possibly Tuzla. However, the UK has always said that air action is not an end in itself. All our NATO allies have agreed on that. It can be part of a strategy to improve the situation but it cannot by any means be the total strategy. I believe that the NATO decisions arrived at last Wednesday now achieve that. It is important to realise that, while there will always be dangers in intervening, there comes a time when a decision must be made.

For many such as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, the decision came too late. As for the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, it was he who accused the Government of being inconsistent. I have just shown that we were not. He also accused us of an absence of British leadership. I have shown that there was none of that either. I have said on many occasions that one cannot stop a war by outside intervention. I do not believe the Sarajevo ultimatum on its own can stop a war; but if it works— and it must be made to work— I believe that it can assist. That is where the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was correct when she asked what was happening at the present time.

As far as we know weapons have been withdrawn to Serb bases. They are being placed under UN supervision. The NATO decision which we took was that heavy weaponry would be withdrawn more than 20 kilometres from Sarajevo or placed under UN control. If they comply with either of those conditions then there are no grounds for an air strike. But if they comply with neither, then that artillery which has not been withdrawn beyond 20 kilometres or placed under UN control will be subject to an air strike. It is part of UNPROFOR' s job, under Lieutenant-General Rose, to put those heavy weapons under control.

One of your Lordships was concerned that we had restrained the United States or the French from an initiative that they wanted to take, or the much more robust response that they wanted. We fully supported a robust decision. But, as I mentioned a moment ago, it can only be as a first step. The Foreign Secretary has been in close touch throughout recent months, and particularly in the past few weeks, with our allies and European Union partners. That includes not only the United States and the French but also the Canadians, who are deeply involved on the ground in Bosnia with us. Naturally there are differences of approach. That is because they base their judgment on a different sort of involvement and the United States is not on the ground in Bosnia. But, whenever an issue such as air strikes is considered, all the information (which is highly complicated) must be brought together and it is that valuable work which is being done so ably on the ground by Lieutenant-General Rose.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, we have had a long debate and I have a lot of questions to answer.

One noble Lord asked me about the legal authority for air strikes. Security Council Resolution 836 provides the legal basis for air power in the event of the strangulation of Sarajevo. I do not see that there should be any further anxiety on that point. It is quite clear, as I gave in answer on the Statement last week.

The noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Craig, and my noble friend Lady Park all referred to how the NATO decision might affect the peace process. I believe that the NATO decision dovetails with the negotiating strategy being pursued by both co-chairmen in trying to secure an overall settlement. Despite the setback in the adjournment of the talks this week, I believe that it is right to bring together not only the work of the co-chairmen and the NATO decision, but also the decision to appoint the UN Secretary-General's special representative so that he, together with Lieutenant-General Rose, can decide what is happening on the ground. They are both there to secure the demilitarisa-tion of Sarajevo and to gain agreement to place the city under UN administration as envisaged in the European Union action plan.

A number of questions were asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. He seemed to say that the Bosnian Moslems believed that the UN and NATO have entered on the Moslem side. We entered on no side. Certainly the UN and NATO must not have any one-sided action and we shall do all we can to ensure that that is so.

The noble Lord. Lord Kennet, asked why NATO had been brought in and not CSCE. The UN required specific tasks to be performed. The main task areas were not only complex but they were limited military tasks. As I need hardly remind your Lordships, the CSCE is not a military body and, if one is to be engaged on military tasks, one needs a proper command structure. That can only be provided by NATO. CSCE would not be equipped for such military tasks.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, talked about the fact that in their opinion sanctions were not working on Serbia. I agree that the sanctions were far too slow to work thoroughly and I and others did our best to get those sanctions tightened. But I am informed again and again that the Serbian economy has been suffering high inflation and that those sanctions are working on Serbia.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I understand that petrol is now much more available in Serbia than it was a couple of months ago.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, that may be so but we must compare that with the needs that they have for petrol and the situation as it was even a year ago. That situation is still very much worse, even though it may have improved slightly in the past month or so, for whatever reason.

My noble friend Lord Beloff questioned the actions of the Russians in relation to the Security Council meeting being held today. He asked whether the Russians would be prepared to support the NATO decision. As I said earlier, there is no doubt that the action agreed by NATO falls within the framework already authorised by Resolutions 824,836 and 844. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are in Moscow this week for talks with President Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Kosyrev. The situation in Bosnia is high on the agenda. But that is not the only contact. We have been in close contact throughout and firmly believe that Russia has a constructive role to play in bringing the Serbs to obey the ultimatum set by the decision of the United Nations and to be implemented if necessary by NATO.

I hope that Russia will find a way to play a constructive role because, when noble Lords ask me why we became involved in the conflict at all, there is only one answer: that is, to stop it spreading. I believe that there is a real fear — as we often hear from noble Lords such as my noble friend Lord Beloff. He spoke of Kosovo. It was interesting that the discussions between my right honourable friend Mr. Douglas Hogg and Dr. Rugovo, the leader of the Albanian majority in Kosovo, were so easy. In that discussion we were able to make clear our support for a return to Kosovo of its previous autonomous status and the restoration of the CSCE observer status to Kosovo, Vojvodina and also to Sandjak. Therefore the people on the ground know that we are not just concentrating on what happens in Bosnia; we are concerned for Kosovo and, as mentioned earlier, for Macedonia as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked what would happen if the bombardment of civilian areas of Sarajevo was launched from outside the 20 kilometres zone. If UNPROFOR can identify that artillery source, that artillery would be subject to the air strike. That is covered by the resolutions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked me about the possibility of Croatian involvement in Bosnia. That is to be reported by the Secretary-General to the: Security Council. There are a range of possible responses to that Croatian action, including sanctions. But we must be careful to avoid what I would term a "knee-jerk" reaction. We must consider what will best serve the overall objectives of bringing peace to Bosnia and the preservation or continuance of the humanitarian effort. But I fully understand the noble Baroness's frustration that sometimes the Croatians seem to get. away with it though the international comrnunity reacts when there is a bombardment of Sarajevo. As many of your Lordships have said, there has undoubtedly been just as much atrocity in other places.

I must now turn to the military aspects. It would be right to remark on the many tributes that have already been made in the first few days to the trernendous efforts of Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, began but he was echoed in many subsequent speeches. I agreed wholeheartedly with my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth when she said that it was crucial that we should not deprive Lieutenant-General Rose of the element of surprise in his action. I hope that in nothing I say or do will I deprive him of any chance of surprise. It may be for those reasons that I do not go into all the details that some of your Lordships might like this evening.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said that we needed to advance on three fronts; the military as well as the diplomatic and humanitarian. Of course we agree with him totally. The air action is not to be isolated but it is to be co-ordinated with the other elements of our peacemaking efforts. There will certainly be agreement from the commanders on the ground in the planning of any action which takes place. Further than that I feel I should not go but I believe that there should be sound military judgment. That is what must hold the ring on this occasion.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, spoke in respect of Tuzla of the comment of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary that one could not impose a settlement or impose the opening of the airport. That is the story of the whole of these conflicts. It is intensely difficult to impose simply by one means or another. There has to be negotiation before one comes to any question of imposing a military solution or seeking to impose a military reaction. That is as true for Tuzla and Srebrenica as it is for Sarajevo.

The noble and gallant Lord was also concerned with the protracted nature of the UK-NATO commitment. In that we agree with him wholeheartedly. That is why we have gone step by step— too slowly for some, I know, particularly on the Liberal Benches, but I do believe that it would have been much more serious in terms of casualties had we not gone as carefully as we have.

The British military involvement in Bosnia, whether on the ground or in the air, has been limited to clear and attainable objectives. We have certainly used our deployment in line with the advice of the military commanders on the ground. British troops have already been in action, exchanging fire in pursuit of their convoy duties. I cannot predict military deployments for the future or how the commanders will use those deployments but I can assure your Lordships that there will be no indiscriminate deployment of forces in the air or on the ground.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves the military aspect, it is clear that it will be General Rose who will report on Sunday night what has happened and what withdrawals and so on have taken place. Who will then take the decision whether what he reports constitutes compliance with the ultimatum?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I imagine from all that I have heard that General Rose will be in the best possible position to say whether they have actually complied with the 20-kilometre rule or indeed whether they have brought any arms within 20 kilometres of Sarajevo under UN command. He has also there the special representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Akashi, who will be involved in the decision-taking and in the advice which is channeled back to the NATO command. The Commander in Chief South— I believe that he may be an American; I am not sure by his name; it sounds slightly Dutch to me— is obviously in charge of the eventual NATO deployment, but it is a bringing together of NATO and the UN before any decision is taken. However, your Lordships would not expect me to go into the total detail of that, because I think it would be wrong to do so. It was of course the North Atlantic Council which delegated the authority to the NATO commander, Admiral Boorda, and the United Nations Secretary-General has delegated his authority to Mr. Akashi. So it is in all cases people who are involved on the ground or in close contact with the commanders on the ground who will take the decisions.

Many other questions have been asked in your Lordships' House today but there was one which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me on which I want to make the response quite clear. He said that if air strikes take place it will be the first time that British forces have killed in Bosnia. I have to tell him that we have already had to take action which undoubtedly has killed snipers in various places in Bosnia. But we have only taken action in defence and in defence of the people of Bosnia who were being attacked. Therefore, while we hope that all casualties will be kept to a minimum, if people engage in war and others are trying to offer protection it cannot be right to say that they should not strike out in order to protect.

A number of your Lordships intimated that air strikes alone would not be enough to move the Serbs. We have always said that. Had we thought that air strikes alone would stop the Serbs from their aggression perhaps, we would have taken the decision to use them long ago. They were decisive neither in Vietnam nor in the Gulf but in this case we believe that they may be helpful in supporting UNPROFOR to pursue the specific tactical objectives that it now has in Srebrenica and Sarajevo. We will always be in difficulty about knowing exactly who has done what. That is why I find it impossible to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, about who is responsible for the shelling in Sarajevo. All I can tell him is that the investigations by UNPROFOR have been going on. While it cannot be said with certainty who was responsible for the 70 or so deaths that were caused, we certainly know that there were many people who could have been doing it on both sides in Sarajevo. In a separate incident UNPROFOR has determined that the Bosnian Serbs were responsible for killing the civilians at Dobrinja in Sarajevo on 4th February, the day before the major incident to which the noble Lord referred.

One noble Lord spoke about aid getting through and said that he thought that the amount was rather low. While it is true that in some of the Moslem enclaves the convoys have been able to get only 20 per cent. of needs supplied through the aid convoys, in many areas it is well over 50 per cent. and in some areas it is over 70 per cent. So it varies enormously according to the conflict and, if I may say so, also to the weather.

The right reverend Prelate and others asked me about the hostage taking and the reports we have heard in recent days. Many reports do exist and we know that threats have been issued against aid workers. The three aid workers who were held in Banja Luka were released on Saturday morning. One of them was a British subject. My department, the Overseas Development Administration, UNPROFOR and the UNHCR are co-operating closely in contingency planning, including for hostage taking.1 know that your Lordships would not expect me to reveal details to the House but I can assure you that it has been done. In fact it was done quite a long while ago, without any publicity, so that it could be effective if necessary.

We are obviously concerned to continue to give relief as much as we possibly can. Many convoys are operating in the areas outside Serb control, according to the UNHCR. The weather conditions are very harsh indeed, but I believe that we can continue. If we have to have temporary suspensions, as we had for four days, we shall make them as temporary as possible. The critical point is that we keep a close eye on the security situation for any signs of deterioration and we do not send convoys off where we believe that they could be impeded and brought into great danger. If the convoys are not safe then the aid cannot get through. Therefore the safety of the convoys and the soldiers who guard them must be our first concern.

There are many other aspects of the aid issue that I could talk about. There are two or three issues raised by your Lordships to which I wish to respond. My noble friend Lord Beloff spoke not only about the wider need for peace than just in Bosnia, but about suffering throughout the area. He asked whether we had forgotten the work of Dame Anne Warburton for those women who were so cruelly affected by rape and other deprivations which they suffered at the hands, mainly of the Serbs, but also of other parties. I can tell him that we put into action— together with German colleagues— a system of counselling and assistance for the women who have been so affected by rape and other atrocities. That is continuing and going well. The objective was to train Bosnians to counsel their own womenfolk when we had done the groundwork. I am proud to say that Marie Stopes International has been carrying out that work exceptionally well on our behalf.

My noble friend Lord Beloff also asked whether we had reviewed each terrible event and learnt from it. We have certainly tried to do so. That is why we are being particularly careful in the actions which we take. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred to the fact that there might be more refugees. It is absolutely critical that we do succeed in trying to create safe areas. It is a very different situation from the safe havens which, with a great deal of power, we managed to create in an area from which the Iraqi troops had been largely excluded. The Bosnian situation is entirely different and much more complex. The noble Baroness knows full well that we shall do all we can to ensure that safe areas are created. Some of the ambitions for safe areas were possibly higher than could ever be achieved, but we shall do what we can.

The right reverend Prelate spoke about help going in and said that the Churches were willing to do more. I hope that people will continue to give their goods and resources. But I repeat the plea which I made in answer to a Question last Thursday. Individual volunteers should not go to Bosnia— I repeat, they should not go to Bosnia— because it is not only dangerous for them, but it brings other organised convoys and the ICRC arid the UNHCR, and even my own convoy people, into great danger let alone the troops who often have to save them. Therefore, I make the plea that by all means help through the Red Cross and the UNHCR, but do not go to Bosnia directly.

Two other areas have been mentioned very often in recent weeks; one is Srebrenica. There it was difficult for the Dutch recce party to get in. I am glad to say that the deployment of Dutch troops has already started there and should be completed in a couple of weeks' time. I now turn to the reopening of Tuzla airport, which is a favourite subject of all of us, because we are determined to see it happen. The first thing I should tell your Lordships is that aid is getting through to Tuzla by road convoys. The opening of Tuzla airport will be done, but it must be done in a way which does not prejudice the ability of the road convoys to get assistance through. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that in one convoy we get 10 times the amount of assistance through compared with one Hercules flight. Because of that it is more efficient even though we wish the road convoys to be backed up by flights by Hercules aircraft into Tuzla. That is why we continue, through pressure on the ground through the NATO commanders in theatre at this very moment, to seek to get safe access to Tuzla for aircraft. Further than that, I am unable to go.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am very pleased to hear that some aid is getting through by road. The figure I have heard quoted is about 20 per cent. of what was originally sent. However, is it not the case that there is now the incidence of malnutrition, particularly in the areas northwest of Tuzla, and that that makes it all the more important that this airport should be opened so that the full 100 per cent. of aid which is identified as being needed to feed the people of that region gets through?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I would that we could. I shall try to make it so. To get rather more than 20 per cent. of aid through is better than getting none through. If the opening of the airport is going to prejudice getting 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. through, then we give ourselves an even bigger problem. We are also looking at the question of supplying by other routes the areas to which the noble Baroness referred. It may be possible that there is some other way, despite the weather conditions, of getting resources to the towns which are particularly troubled.

This has been an interesting debate. Nobody would pretend that it is an easy question or that the policies and actions of the international community have been right at the right time and in each respect. Far from it. I have always said that hindsight is a great gift and so is the ability to tell the future. Sadly, both were denied to the: Ministers of the Crown and to their colleagues overseas. I understand your Lordships' great concern that we should learn from history. Indeed, we always try to do so. We must be guided by the military commanders on the ground. We must use their information to go 'with our political information in order to find a way ahead which will lead to a lasting end to the various conflicts in Bosnia. That is the path which we are on and on which we shall stay. We shall continue working without ceasing to try to bring the reality of peace to Bosnia as soon as we can.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may try her patience for one moment. There is a very important question the answer to which is still not clear in my mind. It concerns what happens at the end of the ultimatum period. Do I understand from her replies to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that, when that period comes to an end, the decision as to whether the terms of the ultimatum have been met by the Serbs and the decision therefore actually to launch the air strikes, will be taken by the special representative of the United Nations and the UN commander on the ground? Will there be no further discussions at a political level before the strikes are launched?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I said with regret in explanation at an earlier stage that I would not be able to answer all the questions. Certainly the advice of the United Nations special representative on the ground, the UNPROFOR commander, the Commander in Chief South and all those involved will be considered. They will be in contact with their governments. As regards further public debate, to which I believe the noble Lord was referring, I do not know the answer to that. I see that he is shaking his head. I am speaking specifically of contacts with leaders of governments but on the basis of the advice and conclusions reached by those on the ground. More than that I cannot say.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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