HL Deb 31 May 1995 vol 564 cc1117-72

2.36 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne) rose to move, That this House takes note of the situation in Bosnia, and of Her Majesty's Government's response to it.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the spectre of trouble in the Balkans has haunted Europe since well before 1914. However, in this century the spectre has struck a particular chill in the heart of our continent. That chill is with us in the Chamber today.

I do not need to rehearse to this House the complexities of geography, race, religion and history that must inform any Balkan policy. Your Lordships know, none better, that these ingredients form an explosive cocktail which, if ignited, could set the Balkan vortex spinning once again, dragging down into its core an ever-increasing number of countries and peoples. Our diplomacy over the last three years has been conducted with this consideration at the front of our minds. We have been helped by many skilled and dedicated people, not least the noble Lord, Lord Owen, whose maiden speech today will make such an important contribution to our proceedings and which we much look forward to hearing.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, there is no doubt that the danger is there. However, there is perhaps an important difference between now and 1914. After all, Europe is not at the moment split into two competing alliances. Indeed, not only does a united and democratic Germany form part of NATO, but my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was able this week to confirm Russia's adherence to the position of the other four members of the contact group. Mr. Kozyrev said, among other things, in The Hague on 29th May: What is important is that the priority is once again given to political rather than military decisions on the basis of the unity of the contact group.

Nevertheless, geography and history are powerful constants in international affairs and now they have re-emerged as the permafrost of the Cold War begins to thaw. My right honourable friend and his colleagues are going to have to work hard to keep the present unity of purpose in good repair. The joint statement in The Hague was encouraging and during the last few days my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have been in constant and close touch with their colleagues in NATO and the contact group.

The strategic purpose of these exchanges is to avoid a full-scale Balkan war. The immediate purpose is to continue our efforts to bring peace to Bosnia and Croatia. The two objects are clearly closely linked. It is not only humanitarian sympathy for the victims of the conflict that makes it imperative that we should succeed.

However, should we fail to prevent the war escalating in Bosnia and Croatia, a united approach reduces the chances that the war will spread.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues have emphasised the importance they attach in this context to the role of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. They are redoubling their efforts to persuade Belgrade to recognise the Government of Bosnia and to strengthen the border between the two countries. Success could enable the Security Council to suspend some sanctions. It is conceivable that we could begin to build on such an accord something which might come to approach peace.

This brings me to the situation in Bosnia itself. I think it is impossible for me to attempt any dispassionate discussion of this aspect of our debate before referring to the role of our servicemen and women, and to the civilian aid workers, serving with UNPROFOR. I was privileged to serve in the Ministry of Defence for over two years, and during that time I visited Bosnia and a number of our people there. Your Lordships are already aware that their performance is in the highest traditions of the British Armed Forces. There can be no higher praise than that, and I know that your Lordships will today wish to send them and their anxious families a message of support and admiration. That message above all goes to those who have been kidnapped in the last few days and to their families at home. The Government's message to them is clear: "Our object is to have you released, unharmed and as soon as possible".

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has already made it clear that he holds Dr. Karadzic and General Mladic personally responsible for the hostages' safety. Indeed, the capture of the hostages has been universally and rightly condemned. I suspect that my noble friend Lord Henley, when he comes to wind up, will have something more to say on that subject. I should perhaps emphasise that the soldiers concerned are not in Bosnia to fight a war. They are there rather to help broker a peace, to protect women and children and to help deliver humanitarian aid. Had they been there to fight a war, their captors would never have had the chance of taking them as they did and I suspect would have seen a very different side of the British Army. I hope it is a side we will not be forced to show, but all parties to the conflict should remember that it exists.

I have said that our troops are not in Bosnia to fight a war. That is true. However, in the last two, nearly three years, UNPROFOR has done much to prevent one. So far, the conflict has not spread to Kosovo and Macedonia, let alone Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey; and Croatia is for the moment relatively quiet. In Bosnia itself, vast amounts of humanitarian aid have been delivered, and shelter and protection provided to many thousands. Thanks substantially to the efforts of UNPROFOR, peace has come to large tracts of central Bosnia in the last 15 months with the establishment of the Bosnian/Croat ceasefire. These are not ignoble or negligible achievements. In order for these things to happen our soldiers ran risks. Some of them have sadly already paid with their lives. Thirty-four others are now paying as hostages and in captivity.

It was always clear that in order to achieve these things we would have to skate on fairly thin ice. Over the last three weeks the ice has begun to crack ominously as the Bosnian Government and the Bosnian Serbs have attacked and counter-attacked each other. In doing so, both sides have violated the Sarajevo exclusion zone by firing heavy weapons onto the confrontation lines and indeed into the city itself. Both sides have also removed heavy weapons from the weapons collection points that the United Nations set up last year.

On 24th May the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative, Mr. Akashi, and General Smith, the UNPROFOR Commander in Bosnia, issued an ultimatum. Certain heavy weapons were to be returned to the collection points and others removed from the exclusion zone. The Bosnian Serbs ignored the ultimatum and, at the United Nations' request, NATO aircraft therefore bombed a Bosnian Serb ammunition dump near Pale.

Shortly afterwards the Bosnian Serbs launched artillery attacks, targeting the civilian populations of Srebrenica, Gorazde and Tuzla. In Tuzla they killed 70 people and injured 130 men, women and children.

A second NATO airstrike followed; this time on another ammunition store on 26th May. In retaliation, the Bosnian Serbs began to take United Nations military observers and members of UNPROFOR hostage.

On 27th May, the Bosnian Serb army captured a French observation post in Sarajevo. The French retook the post, but in the course of the incident one French soldier was killed, 11 were hit and 10 taken prisoner. On 28th May British and Ukrainian soldiers were kidnapped in Gorazde. These events represent a change in the situation and a challenge to UNPROFOR. It is a challenge to which we must respond. How are we doing so?

I made it clear a moment ago that the matter at the forefront of our minds is the question of the hostages. The 34 British hostages are not alone. There are over 350 United Nations personnel who are hostages of the Bosnian Serbs, including the British hostages. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it clear what he thinks of their actions. I hope meanwhile that the House will not ask me or my noble friend Lord Henley to elaborate any further than my right honourable friend has done on the courses open to us at the moment. Henceforth, though, we must reduce the risks our men are exposed to.

General Smith is already authorised to allow his troops to take whatever action he feels is necessary for their defence. The measures he takes will have the full support of Her Majesty's Government. But in order to implement these measures he will need more men and equipment.

At present there are about 3,400 British troops in Bosnia. A further 3,000 from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are engaged in other duties: the airlift from Italy to Sarajevo is one of them. Others include the policing of the air exclusion zone, enforcing the arms embargo and, of course, trade sanctions, and as a possible reinforcement on a carrier task group waiting at sea. As further reinforcements we have decided to send more forces, including two artillery batteries and an armoured engineer squadron all to Bosnia—a total of about 1,000 men. The first of these units left yesterday. General Smith will, as a result, now have artillery at his disposal, which will enable him to respond to bombardment if need be.

We have also ordered 24 Airmobile Brigade to prepare to deploy to Bosnia. This is a highly capable formation, 5,000 strong. It is able to deploy rapidly, and its equipment includes 70 helicopters, Milan anti-tank weapons, four artillery batteries, an air defence battery, and engineering and medical support. We expect it to move to Bosnia unless there is a clear and immediate improvement in the situation there. UNPROFOR has warmly welcomed our offer.

As far as command and control are concerned—an aspect which has exercised many noble Lords over the past few days—24 Airmobile Brigade will come under UNPROFOR command through General Smith. I should also make it clear that the reinforcements in themselves are not enough. Some units are too vulnerable. UNPROFOR commanders should now be allowed to concentrate their forces as and where they consider it necessary.

The contact group agreed on Monday that UNPROFOR should have a rapid reaction capability. France, which at present has the largest contingent in UNPROFOR, has sent reinforcements to the Adriatic. Some other UNPROFOR contributors are also thinking of strengthening their contingents.

It is possible that the present escalation will be seen in retrospect as merely a dangerous phase. If so, UNPROFOR will no longer need this additional fire-power and the UN can continue to execute its tasks under less tense conditions. We hope that that will prove to be the case. However, it is equally possible that Bosnia is on the brink of something infinitely nastier and more dangerous. Which of the two it turns out to be depends on the parties to the conflict. If they choose all-out war, then UNPROFOR will not be able to carry out the sole task for which it is equipped. It would have to leave and the reinforcements Her Majesty's Government have announced would greatly help it to do so.

I should emphasise that it was never part of UNPROFOR's mandate to impose peace on Bosnia. It is not possible, in all conscience, to do so. General Smith and his troops are acting in good faith as neutrals in an attempt to create an atmosphere in which peace will have a chance. UNPROFOR's stance has not and will not change from that. Nevertheless, we should bear in mind the consequences of UNPROFOR's withdrawal should it occur. The past four years have given us a foretaste of the price Bosnia would pay in blood and suffering. The risk of a general Balkan war is one to which I have already referred and one we cannot ignore. I suggest also that withdrawal would not release either ourselves or our allies from our interest in the peace of the region and there is no guarantee that the measures we had to take would prove either cheaper or less risky than our present policy.

That is the present situation. I have deliberately kept my remarks short this afternoon in view of the number of noble Lords who wish to speak. I hope that what I have said will enable your Lordships to react to what is the Government's position and that we can avoid any repetition of obvious or even "unobvious" points in the debate. But I cannot pretend that the present situation in Bosnia is a happy one or that Bosnia will not come to dominate our proceedings to an unfortunate extent in the ensuing months. However, I hope that this House will feel able this afternoon to do two things; first, that your Lordships will approve the action the Government have taken over the past few days; secondly, that a message of support will go out to all our troops in Bosnia, especially the hostages. I know that your Lordships will feel that they and their families deserve our highest and most concentrated endeavours and our prayers. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the situation in Bosnia, and of Her Majesty's Government's response to it.—(Viscount Cranborne.)

2.55 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House the Lord Privy Seal for opening the debate. He has given us information on which we may be in a better position to make tentative and provisional judgments upon what the Government are deciding. At the outset I must say that I look forward to hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, says in his maiden speech. He probably knows more about Yugoslavia, Croatia, Bosnia and the current problems than any other person in this House. It will be helpful for us to have the benefit of his experience.

Before turning to the substance of the issue perhaps I can say, first, that I echo the words of the Lord Privy Seal in the tributes he expressed to our servicemen and associated personnel in the former Yugoslavia. They have clone an extraordinarily good job in difficult circumstances. Some of those who question the United Nations' peacekeeping efforts ought to bear in mind that the British are really very good at peacekeeping. It may be that there are some things at which we are not so good, but in terms of the sensitive and difficult job of trying to bring some kind of order as between two opposing potential combatants this country has a proud record and our forces in the former Yugoslavia have added to it.

Like the noble Viscount, I want to keep my remarks short, for a number of reasons, one of which is that there is not a great deal new to say. Some things on the ground have perhaps changed, but the essentials of the situation are much the same now as they were six months or nine months ago. It is right that Parliament should be given an opportunity of discussing the present situation in Bosnia. Our troops are directly involved; some of them are hostages despite the fact that they are there as peacekeepers and UN soldiers. It is quite outrageous that people in that capacity should be treated in this way. They are thus in direct and imminent danger of a sort which I do not think was envisaged when Parliament last discussed this matter. We expected the Serbs to behave better, but we were wrong. They have not behaved better. If anything they have behaved worse.

It is right too that Parliament should be recalled in the light of the government announcement; namely, that 5,000 additional British troops are to be sent either to reinforce the UN contingent or to prepare for the withdrawal should that become necessary. That is an issue to which I shall revert later because I am not entirely clear, even after the speech of the noble Viscount, precisely what their role is. However, I am sure that we can all agree on one thing: that this is a complicated, convoluted, complex mess, and it is not a mess of our sole making.

The sight of British soldiers, many of them Welsh, being held as hostages in Bosnian Serb hands is both humiliating and shaming. It also shames the Bosnian Serbs. It puts them totally outwith the norms of civilised dealing, even between combatants—and the UN is not a combatant. The Prime Minister was right to emphasise that the Bosnian Serb leadership will be held personally responsible for any harm that may come to those hostages.

If the UN is not a combatant—it clearly is not—we must ask ourselves what it is doing there and what it has achieved. As has been frequently pointed out, the UN role in the former Yugoslavia was initially humanitarian. We should not forget that UNPROFOR is an international force. At the moment France has the largest contingent with 4,500 troops; it has suffered 39 casualties and more than 150 of its troops are hostages. The Netherlands has 1,500 troops there, and Denmark 1,200. In addition to the direct troop contributors, other countries are—to use as neutral a word as I can find—interested. Germany is watchful and has expressed a readiness to assist a withdrawal if that should become necessary. The United States now has some marines in the area together with a carrier force—and high time too! I believe that there has been perhaps too much lecturing from across the Atlantic and not sufficient action on behalf of the United States of America. Indeed, I believe that some of its policies have been somewhat self-defeating.

The fact that so many other countries are interested in this problem of itself imposes restrictions on the Government's freedom of action. We have to work in conjunction with the others, particularly France. The Government are right to discuss this matter with our partners in NATO. I hasten to add, for the benefit of my noble friend sitting behind me, that it is not a matter of European solidarity but of sheer common sense.

There are three distinct views of the Bosnian crisis as a whole and what western reaction to it should be. First, there is the school of thought which argues that we should never have been there in the first place and that even one British casualty is one too many. That was expressed in an article in today's Guardian by Correlli Barnett who says that he does not think, that the fate of the former Yugoslavia and its inhabitants is worth the bones of a single British grenadier or a French chasseur He concludes, The one good thing likely to come out of this ghastly but predictable mess is that the UN will be finally discredited as a kind of global nanny sorting out the kiddies' quarrels wherever they occur". Over the past 50 years would that the United Nations had been able to sort out, the kiddies' quarrels wherever they occur". It has tried; it has not entirely succeeded.

The other extreme is the one which wants, not less, but more intervention, based on the belief, it seems, that a greater will to fight the Serbs is more likely to bring an eventual peace. I do not follow that argument and never have done. If anything, it will make the situation infinitely worse than it is at present, and heaven knows it is had enough as it is.

The third view is that which both the Government and the Opposition support. It is that on balance, as the noble Viscount said, the United Nations' presence has helped. It has succeeded in saving lives. It has helped to broker a Moslem-Croat agreement. It has provided major humanitarian assistance in situations where that assistance was desperately needed.

I echo the words of the Leader of the House in summing up the role of the United Nations. It is not to solve a problem. The United Nations never solved a problem. What it can do, if it succeeds, is produce a situation in which the parties to a dispute can solve the problem. The idea that somehow or other the United Nations can go into an area like Yugoslavia and impose a settlement which all the disputants will accept and thereafter live in harmony is, frankly, fanciful. All that it can do is to try to hold the ring as best it can in the hope that common sense will prevail.

As perhaps the House will have gathered, I would not be in favour of the withdrawal of the United Nations' presence in Bosnia from which it also follows that I would not be in favour of a unilateral withdrawal of British forces. Such a course would be likely to lead to more rather than less bloodshed and worsen an already difficult situation. That is the judgment we have to make in the present situation. Does our presence, as part of the United Nations force, help—not solve or cure—the problem? Personally, I have no doubt whatever that it does.

If I am in favour of the UN remaining there, there is the question of the reinforcements. Another 5,000 is a great many soldiers. The Lord Privy Seal told us that they were to be part of UNPROFOR. I think that that is what he said; I shall be grateful for confirmation in the course of the debate. I assume that that means that they have been offered to the Secretary-General as part of the British contingent of UNPROFOR, that they are now blue beret soldiers, and that they will be under the direct command of General Smith as the general in charge of UNPROFOR. The number of British UN troops in Yugoslavia will therefore have increased from 3,400 to something like 9,400. I hope that I understood that correctly. I shall be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who is to reply to the debate, will make the position absolutely clear.

The role of the reinforcements is extremely important. Judging by some extraordinary comments yesterday, I am not sure whether it had even been cleared by the Bosnian Government. In other words, what is the object? Is it reinforcement, or is it cover? For heaven's sake let us be clear as to what it is we are doing; otherwise a lack of clarity will inevitably produce indecision. Indecision will produce drift and drift, in turn, will produce disaster.

Finally, perhaps I may say a word about the Government's overall approach. We have to ask ourselves the question as to what exactly we are now trying to achieve. I assume that this new show of force is designed to achieve two things; first, the release of the hostages and, secondly, a clear demonstration that the international community is standing firm against blackmail of this sort.

I hope, however, that there is a third aim; namely, to try to persuade President Milosevic that it is in his interests to persuade the Bosnian Serbs of the necessity for a diplomatic settlement. If I caught the flavour of what the Leader of the House said, there seemed to be reference to the possibility that negotiations of some sort are in progress which might produce some such result. I hope that that is so. If someone can assure me that negotiations are in being, then obviously one would not wish to probe too hard.

To sum up, it seems to me that this country has no alternative whatever but to continue on our current course. I believe that we were right to put our troops into the former Yugoslavia as part of UNPROFOR. I believe that the UN has probably got its mandate about right. I do not believe that we need a new mandate in the circumstances. Therefore, having set out hands to this particular task, we have no alternative but to go forward with it.

However, our thoughts today must surely be, above all else, with the hostages and their families. I hope that somehow or other the message will get through to them that this Parliament is thinking of them; that we are desperately concerned about them; and that we are pursuing policies which we believe will produce a result in the long run which will mean their freedom.

3.8 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I begin by offering the House the apologies of my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead who very much regrets that he is unable to be here today. It is with anticipation that I await the maiden speech of my old colleague in several different parties, the noble Lord, Lord Owen. For many years he has held down an utterly thankless task and has done so with exemplary patience and restraint. I suspect that he has been saving up these qualities in the preceding years for the exercise of his present post.

The noble Viscount raised with me two points which he wishes the Opposition Front Bench to make. We warmly and wholly agree with the message to the hostages and the peacekeepers and we also approve of the action which the Government have taken. The Prime Minister did well to announce the reinforcement. He showed that we are serious, and he has shown the Bosnian Serbs that we are serious about the hostages. It was a spirited and honourable reply to the crisis, and we entirely support it and the policy behind it which the noble Viscount explained. We are glad to see other allies following our example apart, regrettably, from the United States. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I believe that UNPROFOR could have done much better with less blatant back seat driving from across the Atlantic. Nevertheless, the reinforcement meets with our wholehearted approval. It is unanimously agreed by NATO, the United Nations and the European Foreign Ministers. It is good to have the unanimous view of the parties in its favour.

I must tell the Minister that we on these Benches are unshakeably opposed to withdrawal, but I shall deal with that matter later. The precedents for the withdrawal of peacekeeping troops are bad. When we withdrew from India the most appalling killings and ethnic cleansing followed. I remember the then Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten, saying in the India Committee, "Whatever we do, Prime Minister, there will be rivers of blood". And so it turned out. The withdrawal from Palestine was immediately followed by war and by drastic ethnic cleansing.

I believe that in Bosnia the situation will be even worse. We can rely on the Croats to take the opportunity of seizing land which they believe belongs to them. We can certainly rely on the Bosnian Serbs to do the same. We shall be leaving 1.5 million Moslems almost at their mercy, and if it comes about we shall see it all on television. There is the danger of war spreading throughout the Balkans and the danger that the Russians will find themselves on one side and the Americans on the other. Furthermore, we shall witness the utter destruction of NATO's capability for peacemaking for 10 or more years. That is a loss that we should not allow. My noble friend will speak about that matter later.

In Palestine and in India there was at least one great blessing; the operational withdrawal was straightforward. However, the operational withdrawal from Bosnia would be not only difficult and dangerous but might become impracticable. I believe that yesterday President Izetbegovic stated that he would not permit freedom of movement to the British reinforcements. I am sorry that the Minister did not mention that and it will be interesting to know the Government's attitude to it. I hope that President Izetbegovic will be overridden, but it shows how the land will lie if and when we have to withdraw. It shows that not only will the Bosnian Serbs be opposed to our peacekeepers as they withdraw but so too will the Croats and Moslems. It will be the first united action by Serbs, Moslems and Croats; namely, harassing violently and humiliating those who have gone there with the single aim of preventing death and starvation. That is the Balkans for you, but it is what might happen if we reach the stage of having to withdraw. The consequences of withdrawal would be even worse.

That is why we support absolutely the reinforcement proposed by the Government. We support their diplomatic efforts too. The Russians must be encouraged to persuade President Milosevic to recognise Bosnia. That would be a shock to the Bosnian Serbs. Perhaps the Russians would have done so already had United States diplomacy been a little less confrontational. As it is, this is a great prize and we support the Government in their efforts to bring it about.

President Milosevic has a great deal to answer for. His proposal for a greater Serbia lit the fuse. His money and the leakages in the blockade are helping to keep the fire going. The Croats and Moslems too are behaving in a foolish and unhelpful way. They broke the ceasefire and even now, perhaps taking advantage of the crisis, they are attacking Serb-held territory, which does not help at all. All the Balkan warlords are to blame for the desperate state of the country, but some are more blameworthy than others.

It is difficult to feel optimistic. The Bosnian Serbs have the initiative and are as irrational, violent and vengeful as ever. Much as we support the Government's new steps, we cannot be sure that they will succeed. However, if they fail, I hope that we shall not regard that as a reason for withdrawal. The resources of civilisation will not yet have been exhausted. It is true that in such circumstances UNPROFOR will be extremely weak and the present United Nations mandate will have failed conclusively.

In these desperate situations a new option might emerge. The United Nations might decide to abandon the posture of neutrality, which it has taken up so far, between the side which accepts the contact group's peace plan and the side which rejects it. The Bosnian Serbs have made it quite clear that they now treat the United Nations as the enemy. It would therefore be logical and permissible for the United Nations to arm itself with a new mandate; a mandate which would register a clear-cut change from peacekeeping to peacemaking. Military operations would cease to be UN controlled; they would be UN sponsored, as they were in the Gulf. The British, French and other fighting forces would get rid of the white vehicles and the blue berets, again as happened in the Gulf.

The balance of power between those who support the peace plan and those who oppose it is becoming increasingly even. There is a good case for saying that even if a United Nations sponsored force confined itself to training, advice and, perhaps in special circumstances, air support, the formation of such a force could have a decisive effect.

As a possible alternative to withdrawal—to the nightmare of withdrawal—we on these Benches believe that the new option deserves to be carefully examined by the Government. The Prime Minister will understand the expression, "We should not leave the field until the last wicket has fallen". I am thinking of the situation in which the present policy outlined by the Minister has not succeeded. Do not let us believe that there is no other way of saving the situation.

In this whole matter, this country has much to be proud of. We should be proud of the gallantry and professionalism of our forces; of the military planning; of its leadership in diplomacy in NATO, the United Nations and the European Community; and, as others have said, of the fact that thousands of innocent lives have been saved. We support the Government in their present policies and we urge them, in spite of everything, to keep going and not to give up.

3.18 p.m.

Lord Owen

My Lords, I ask for the indulgence of the House. I have deliberately not spoken here until today, believing that in my role as European Union co-chairman of the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia I ought to bend over backwards to he seen to be identifying with the interests and concerns of all 15 member states of the European Union. But in view of the grave situation, which with tragic predictability developed in Bosnia Herzegovina during the past week, I felt that it was right that I should speak in this Parliamentary debate.

The attempt to build a consensus and establish a European Union common foreign and security policy is something in which I wholeheartedly believe. But such a policy is an inter-governmental responsibility. It is not subject, unless all nations agree, to any element of majority or qualified majority voting. Therefore, it is—and I hope will always remain—for the European Union's own national parliament to take the big decisions in this all-important area of United Kingdom policy.

I have said nothing in public over the last week, believing that I should first attend the European Union Foreign Ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday and then, later that day, the five nation contact group ministerial discussion in The Hague. I intend to raise no criticism of European Union policy for I have a close working relationship with all 15 Foreign Ministers. I am indebted to the British Government, and in particular to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, for their consistent support and assistance.

In today's debate I seek only to concentrate on one central question: are British forces being sucked ever more into a Balkan war as a combatant on the back of a UN humanitarian intervention? Sadly, my answer is that we are and we need to be very clear about what is involved if we are to go down that route. Slowly and inextricably, on the ground, those who wear the UN blue helmets are being dragged into the conflict between the parties in Bosnia- Herzegovina, despite the very best endeavours of the UN Secretary-General, my fellow co-chairman and close friend Mr. Stoltenberg, the UN Secretary-General special representative Mr. Akashi and, above all, the brave UN commanders and forces actually in the field.

We should not be surprised by that trend, given the massive pressures for that to happen, but we need to decide for ourselves whether we shall allow it to happen. We know from President Clinton's experience in Somalia in 1993 how easy it is for a UN humanitarian operation—in the Somalian case, led by the United States as the largest troop contributor - to become identified as a combatant. Not for nothing did General Rose define the threshold between a humanitarian peacekeeping role and a combatant as being the Mogadishu line.

We should not be surprised that the Bosnian Government seek to involve UN forces on their side. After all, the Moslem people have been grievously treated and have borne the brunt of the horrors of this war. They do not like the UN remaining impartial and it is not altogether surprising that there is a long list of UN generals who have been criticised savagely because they have insisted, and rightly so, on UN impartiality. Generals Nambiar, Morillon, Briquemont, Wahlgren, Cot, Rose, de Lepresle, Smith and Janvier are not anti-Moslem or anti-Serb, because they are impartial. They have sought to uphold the UN mandate given to them by the member states of the European Union. It is because of their bravery and resistance of those pressures that we have not yet crossed the Mogadishu line in Bosnia-Herzegovina—and long may that be the case.

The Bosnian Serbs also have an interest in breaking the impartiality of the UN because they believe that that is the quickest way to force a UN withdrawal. The Bosnian Serbs have made, even by the standards of their own interests, a grave miscalculation in taking those large numbers of UN hostages. Certainly they misunderstand the British people if they believe that we would ever withdraw our UN forces while not just our men in blue helmets but any UN peacekeeper is held hostage. Nor will our country, which has fought IRA terrorism for so many years, bargain away its presence because of hostage taking.

UN personnel seized by the Bosnian Serbs must be returned unharmed. The Bosnian Serbs have taken UN hostages before and have been persuaded to return them. It is a despicable and disreputable practice which does nothing but sully the reputation of those army officers who lay claim to follow in the proud tradition of former Serbian armies. It is a thoroughly good thing that the Belgrade Serbs and President Milosevic have condemned that practice. Those who now lead the Yugoslav Army, many of whom, incidentally, have served in UN peacekeeping operations throughout the world with distinction, should call publicly on General Mladic to release UN hostages.

In my judgment, there is only one way forward in Bosnia-Herzegovina; that is, for the UN to be given every possible assistance to sustain its presence on the basis of the impartial application of its humanitarian mission. That is why the Government are right to nearly triple the British presence in the former Yugoslavia.

We need to remind ourselves why the UN is in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It started on the path of a humanitarian intervention in the summer of 1992 with a small UN presence in Sarajevo airport following negotiation with the Bosnian Serbs to allow a UNHCR-run airlift to bring humanitarian supplies for all parties in the Bosnian war. The British presence came in the autumn to escort humanitarian convoys against a prediction—let us remind ourselves—that hundreds of thousands would die in the winter of 1992–93 without such aid. I think that they would have done.

In addition, we justified that humanitarian intervention on the basis that it would give time for the parties locked in battle to negotiate a peace settlement. Since then, there have been many additions to the UN mandate—in particular, the no-fly zones, the declaration of six safe areas, irresponsibly unmatched by the necessary UN forces, close air support and the Sarajevo heavy weapon exclusion zone. All could have been and were justified as trying to damp down the war and to make an overall contribution to the UN's humanitarian intervention.

But through three winters we have found that while we have saved many lives, humanitarian supplies, whether food, winterisation materials or heating oil, have been diverted increasingly to the war effort. Remorselessly, month after month the odious practice of ethnic cleansing has continued in the Serb-controlled areas and in some areas of the Moslem-Croat civil war. Those who have blocked successive peace settlements in the name of morality should face the consequences of a delayed peace—ever greater ethnic cleansing and ever more partition.

Meanwhile, the authority of the UN, as usually happens in those situations, is being eroded progressively; its impartiality challenged and its effectiveness questioned. I do not believe that that humanitarian intervention can be extended through a fourth winter. If there is not a peace settlement by the autumn of this year, I fear that the UN forces will be forced to leave. There would then be some countries which would feel free to supply arms officially to the participants—which I hope the British Government will not do under any circumstances. Eventually, peace will come but it could take many years and it would come either from exhaustion or from outright victory.

In the process, I fear that the present containment of the war might well dissolve and we could possibly face a disastrous extension of the war right through the Balkans. The one hopeful sign is that today Ambassador Frasure, from the US State Department, who has already negotiated with some considerable skill, will be visiting Belgrade to carry on negotiations conducted over the past three months by the contact group with President Milosevic for mutual recognition between the FRY (Serbia and Montenegro) and Bosnia-Herzegovina. I might add that that is a political negotiation in which Britain and France have played key roles.

I note also—I must say more in sorrow than in anger—that one of America's finest public servants, the former US Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, was vilified all too recently by people in the United States, who should have known better, for even negotiating with President Milosevic.

President Izetbegovic has said that following recognition he will be ready to renew the previous cessation of hostilities agreement. Since the formation of the contact group there have been no direct negotiations between the parties and not even proximity talks since July 1994. The absence of a dialogue for nearly a year is the despair of the United Nations, and rightly so. Humanitarian intervention unaccompanied by peace negotiations is an unstable and unsustainable mix. This political vacuum must now be filled with direct negotiations between the parties.

The summer months could still provide a window of opportunity for Bosnia-Herzegovina to settle its differences. It is to be hoped that we will hear a little less from the laptop bombardiers and a little more of the voice of compromise and reason. The Bosnian Moslems, Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats cannot go on much longer blaming all their problems on one another and on organisations and countries that have paid a heavy price in money, men and materials to help them. They have to compromise among themselves and use the impartiality of the United Nations and those governments that are ready to live within that discipline—I am proud that one of them is my own—to help them make peace.

I believe that the decision of the British Government to reinforce the United Nations can make an important contribution, but it must be made clear, without fixing exact deadlines, that this commitment depends upon political progress. The European Union has long championed the absolute necessity of achieving a negotiated settlement. It must insist that the voices of the true contributing countries are given more weight in the United Nations than the voices of those who have stayed on the sidelines.

To those families in the United Kingdom who have lost a loved one serving the United Nations in the former Yugoslavia, or who have been injured or who are now kept hostage, I can honestly say that their sacrifice has been worthwhile. But I would not find such sacrifice easy to justify were we to become combatants, lose our impartiality and cease to be part of a United Nations humanitarian intervention.

In January of this year I wrote to President Mitterrand and put my office as European negotiator at the disposal of the French presidency. I said that I was ready to leave at any time but that I hoped it would be no later than the end of June. I took on this job in August 1992 in the belief that it would take six months. I wish I could give more concrete evidence of the endeavours that have been undertaken to try to achieve peace. I have written to President Chirac and asked to be relieved of my responsibilities before the end of the French presidency of the EU. I hope and pray that the countries of the former Yugoslavia can find a little more peace than they have been able to over the past three years.

3.33 p.m.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, first it is my pleasant duty to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Owen, on his maiden speech. He has brought to our discussions a note of realism based upon his tremendous work during the past three or four years, for which we thank him. I have never been in doubt about his ability. He had service both in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He was the youngest Foreign Secretary since the appointment of Anthony Eden. In both offices he showed the potential that has been demonstrated in the tremendous work that he has undertaken in Bosnia-Herzegovina and other parts of the former Yugoslavia. He has shown great determination and tremendous energy, as all of us would have expected. I only wish that he had continued to give the same service to the Labour Party, but that is another story.

I do not know whether or when his resignation will be accepted. If he has useful work to do, I trust that he will not persist in it; but if he does, I trust that this House will also have the benefit of his advice and contributions, should he find himself with extra time on his hands as a result of that. I congratulate him on a splendid speech.

Our immediate concern is the release of the 33 Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 300 from other countries. This is felt with particular poignancy in Wales where the Royal Welch Fusiliers have their headquarters. Although they take recruits from all parts of the country, basic recruitment takes place in Wales itself. It is a traditional Welsh regiment. I know that this House extends to all those in Wales in particular on this occasion its support and sympathy for that ordeal.

I fear that on this matter I do not take exactly the same view as the three Front Benches. I daresay that I will be in a minority in this House. I am glad that this debate is taking place, because it permits the doubts that some of us have—or, at any rate, that I have—to surface and to be expressed. I believe that to be right. I cannot forget that it was the bombing by the American Air Force which led to the Royal Welch Fusiliers being taken hostage. We read that that action was taken in order to teach the Bosnian Serbs a lesson. Some lesson! Surely there is no doubt in anybody's mind that what has taken place has backfired and that the bombing has not improved the situation but has worsened it. Mr. Warren Christopher says that further air strikes are an option. I hope that they are not. I hope that the British Government have informed President Clinton that they will veto any further air strikes. We do not need to give a guarantee to those who demand one, but we should not permit further air strikes which will worsen the situation and place more people unnecessarily at risk without improving what is taking place.

I do not wish to be critical of Her Majesty's Government this afternoon. Indeed I support what has happened up to the present time. Some of my strictures are directed at the members of the United Nations. The United Nations is an institution that is made up of members. It is the individual countries that are responsible for the situation that has developed.

I have no expert knowledge of the former Yugoslavia and am merely an onlooker. I must listen with respect to what is said by those who follow it much more closely or who have responsibility for it. As an onlooker, I cannot escape the view that we make policy as we go along. There are too many ad hoc arrangements and improvisations. For that I attach responsibility to the mandate given by the United Nations. The intention was honourable enough. The intention was that it should be impartial, provide humanitarian aid and remain neutral between the combatants. Inevitably, the mandate must be stretched to deal with contingencies that were not envisaged when it was drawn up in order to meet the practical situation on the ground. First, it was designed to provide humanitarian aid and monitor agreements. It was changed to the right of self-defence—how logical, sensible and right—and then to enforce any agreements that had been made. I find it very difficult to understand how you can remain neutral if, at the same time, you are putting yourself in a position where you must oppose and take action against someone who, in your view, is not adhering to agreements that have been made.

The result so far—I, at any rate, feel this very strongly even if no one else does—is a situation in which the Bosnian Serbs are so inflamed against the United Nations that they declare that any of its resolutions and decisions are invalid and will not be observed. The United Nations has been so frustrated that it has bombed one of the combatants. Whatever our intentions, I believe that that is an inevitable development and that the problem we now have is the dilemma between inevitable escalation on the one hand and withdrawal on the other.

Perhaps I may give your Lordships two illustrations which came to my notice about the inevitable escalation that takes place once you embark upon such a course. In November 1992, it was provided that UNPROFOR should monitor the airfields in Bosnia Herzegovina. That was a very sensible decision at the time; indeed, absolutely logical. Why not? But then, in December 1993, it was extended to monitoring compliance with the no-fly zone in the area. That was not the end. In March 1994, we then moved one step further in order to ensure the enforcement of the no-fly zone. So you move step by step upwards. My fear—I wish to put this firmly both to the House and the Government—is that unless we are very clear about the objectives of the force (a force of fighting men) that we propose to send, it will be dragged into the morass that can be foreseen because of the inevitable escalation as events develop.

If the House will bear with me, I should like to put forward one further example. We first established one safe area in Srebrenica in April 1993. UNPROFOR was requested to increase its presence there to monitor the humanitarian situation. That area was in our minds at the time. Only a month later UNPROFOR was requested to monitor the humanitarian situation in further safe areas; namely, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Gorazde, Bihac and Zepa. So such things happen. There was a further extension in June 1993. All experience of history bears out that we shall be faced with an escalation in these matters. Therefore, we must be clear when we start what it is that we are doing when we send fighting troops, as now, to Bosnia Herzegovina. I do not criticise Her Majesty's Government so far, but I want to be clear that they know and understand that lesson and that they are ready to face it and to tell us what the position is.

Mr. Hurd told us—and here I have a disagreement with him—that we are continuing on our present course. That is not so. We are not continuing on our present course, as that has been to bring humanitarian assistance to the country and to use only the minimum force necessary in order to ensure our own self-defence. You do not send 5,000 troops to the country in order to ensure that. The dispatch of troops with fighting capacity and capability marks a fresh point of departure and a deeper involvement. Unless the Government and the House face that fact we shall find ourselves on a slippery slope, the end of which I cannot see.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, seemed to envisage a new mandate for the United Nations to create a fighting force. I would be strongly opposed to that. But, in any case, what prospects are there of creating such a fighting force? I would not embark upon any armed conflict unless I had the Americans with me. That was the case as regards Cyprus, at least so far as I was concerned, when I had some involvement there. Because we could never be sure that the Americans would help us, we were never able, in my view, to take the decision we should have taken over Cyprus.

I see no prospect of the Americans committing forces. We would not have their logistics. They might supply us with some hardware but we would not have the necessary cohesion either from the Americans or from the Russians to create a UN fighting force. Therefore, with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, I must say that I really cannot believe that that is a practical proposition at present.

As I see no reason for other nations sending such contingents, I return to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, regarding whether or not there are prospects of a settlement. I gathered from an interchange between the Front Benches that there is perhaps some information passing between the two which indicates that that might be the case. I believe that the noble Lord forecast a withdrawal by the autumn. That will pass. I speak only from what we know about what has happened in the past three or four years, and I can see very little chance of that happening. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, the political combatants must come to the table. But who is going to bring them? How can we bring them there? What are the answers to those questions? I cannot imagine.

I have taken too much of your Lordships' time, but my fear is that the Prime Minister may in the future be forced to yield, or feel compelled to yield, to the "something must be done" school: each step justified; each step logical; each step inevitable; and each step leading deeper into a morass from which we would find it extremely difficult to escape. My hope is that those forces (some 5,000, or 6,000, or whatever) sent there, or to be sent there, will be used to cover our troops in self-protection and, if and when necessary—and I gather from the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that it might become so—to ensure and cover an orderly withdrawal. I would not force the Government's hand on timing. I believe that the matter should be taken to the United Nations and discussed there very seriously on the basis that there is every chance and every likelihood that, unless we can assemble a force of 100,000 men with all the arms, logistics, and so on, in order to impose some peace, the alternative will be to withdraw.

I am aware of the risks of withdrawal. They are very great indeed. I do not need to be told about them. However, this is not 1912 or 1914. We have no Kaiser; we have Chancellor Kohl. We have no tottering empires like the Turkish empire or the Austro-Hungarian empire of Emperor Franz Joseph. There is none of that. Yes, of course, the war could extend throughout the Balkans. It comes down to a matter of judgment in the end. I believe that the risks of escalation through the UN being present are greater than the risks that would be caused by withdrawal. I cannot prove that; indeed, I may be utterly wrong. It is a very hard decision that the Government will have to take.

However, we have completed one part of our mission so far as we have been allowed. It is not in our interests to become involved in active fighting on behalf of one combatant or another, if only because there are two countries which have the greatest ability to influence events, and they are neither France nor Britain. One is the United States, with its preponderant military power, which will not commit ground forces. The second is Russia, with its traditional friendship towards the Serbs. We, and possibly France, are not in line with either of them. We run a great risk. We may be attempting, in Mr. Hurd's words, "to punch above our weight". I see no particular advantage in that.

I cannot conceive of circumstances in which an escalation of the conflict in which we were involved on one side, involving British troops in combat, would be in our interests. It is my hope that Her Majesty's Government think likewise.

3.50 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, first, like other noble Lords, I wish to pay tribute to the British forces already in Bosnia and those scheduled to go, together with the civilian aid workers. We can have what William Blake once termed an "honest pride" in the fact that we have superbly trained, disciplined and courageous forces available for the United Nations in this operation. Our special thoughts and prayers at this time go out to those taken hostage and their families.

Those forces in Bosnia and their families, quite understandably want to be reassured that our troops are there for a rational purpose and to some good effect. I believe that they are. I fully support the Government's resolve to strengthen our forces to meet the present challenge. I believe that a withdrawal at this stage would be appalling, both in its effect on the people of Bosnia and for the credibility of the United Nations. I also believe that we need to be prepared for a long haul. There are no quick fixes in the future, any more than there have been in the past.

In relation to the long haul, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, for his maiden speech and for his words of sombre wisdom. We have also heard words of sombre wisdom from the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, on the risks and dangers of escalation. However, even taking all that into account, I believe that it is right for the United Nations to be there and for its forces to be strengthened at this particular moment.

Time forbids an analysis of how we found ourselves boxed into this tight and tragic corner. I find it not only tragic but shaming. All the high hopes we once held that the European powers might be of a common mind, with a common security policy backed up by real political will and adequate forces, have been dashed. Apparently, unco-ordinated decisions were made at an early stage of the break-up of former Yugoslavia without much thought for the consequences and little preparation for those consequences. Since then there has been a lack of political will to create the kind of international police force that many of us hoped would characterise a new international order.

Reference has been made in the debate to the United Nations as a nanny. In a fallen world we need a nanny, both nationally in the form of police and in terms of a strong international force. When this horrible conflict is over there are many lessons that the European nations in particular need to learn.

Meanwhile, we are there with our limited role and even more limited options. However, that role is still of crucial importance: ensuring that aid gets through, brokering and monitoring such peace as we can achieve, and preventing a bad situation from lurching into something even worse. Although the role of the United Nations has been limited, I agree entirely with the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal that it has been invaluable and remains so. I understand that that view is shared by at least some senior church leaders in Bosnia.

It is tempting to think that because the role of the United Nations is not as ambitious as some of us would originally have liked it serves no purpose. That would be a mistake. The United Nations force alters the balance of power in the region in a way which makes for stability. Matters would be a great deal worse without it being there.

A number of commentators have asked about British strategic interests in the conflict. That is a proper concern. However, no less proper is a concern for the authority of the United Nations and of international law. It was for the maintenance of the international order, to show that countries or sectional interests within countries cannot simply take what they want, that we mounted such effective action against Saddam Hussein. The circumstances in Bosnia are more complex and a great deal less clear cut, but the United Nations still has a crucial role to play and the international community, especially the European Community, still has a responsibility to exercise. Withdrawal, letting the two sides slug it out with, as always, the civilian population suffering most, is a counsel of despair and an abdication of responsibility. We have a particular responsibility at present to ensure the safe return of the hostages. But beyond that we owe it not only to the people of Bosnia but to the future of world order to strengthen the authority of the United Nations forces in the area.

What counts in war, as much as or even more than military hardware, as many in this House know, is will and resolve. We know that that will exists in the forces on the ground. We need to reassure them that they are backed by moral resolve and political will. The United Nations force in Bosnia represents the conscience of the world and is a sign, however fragile, of something better than slugging it out to the end. Those troops should be there. They should be there with all the force that they need. I hope that we can reassure them of the continuing crucial importance of their dangerous and difficult role—a reassurance which sadly they are likely to need for some time in the future, but a reassurance which I hope we shall be able to give them, however far ahead.

3.57 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I do not know what the solution is to the dangerous situation which confronts us. With some honourable exceptions, the media will conduct their own campaign, attempting to make policy on the "Today" programme and demanding to know, on the air and at once, what decisions have been made. We all know the impossibility of playing a difficult negotiating hand while somebody helpfully reveals what cards, if any, we hold on the grounds that the public, and of course the enemy, have the right to know. For that reason I fully accept that we cannot expect any unequivocal statement of specific final intent. Therefore, we should support the Government strongly in the face of any frivolous media pressure.

However, I believe it to be vital that both Houses should make it very clear what principles we expect to inform our future policy. First, will the Government at last begin to make their defence decisions, whether in terms of cuts, resources or new expenditure, on the basis of our defence commitments and not with the sole object of saving money? Will they also face squarely the implications of political commitments for our defence capacity?

I find in the Defence Estimates for 1995, Stable Forces in a Strong Britain, the statement: Force Elements Contributing to Defence Role Three". Defence role three includes military task 3.6—humanitarian and disaster relief—and military task 3.7—provision of a military contribution to operations under international auspices, in particular those of the UN, OSCE and WEU and to NATO operations in support of UN or OSCE mandates.

A table shows the number of force elements currently committed to a task, the number of contingent forces held at readiness, and the increment. The increment is the number of force elements not provided by multiple earmarking from other tasks. There is only one such increment in the whole column, and that is the regiment in Brunei. In other words, every resource we have in the former Yugoslavia has presumably been taken from another task. It can also work the other way. There were three Hercules serving the area. Now one has been redeployed and so there are two serving the former Yugoslavia and two in the Gulf.

I was so impressed by what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in particular, had to say that your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I have scrapped about five pages of my speech; so I hope I will be forgiven if I should perhaps lose my place. In the present situation I hope we shall remember that both Russia and Serbia proper have much to lose if they do not use their influence to help us to do whatever we decide: to go or to stay. I hope that we shall move into the next phase, the IGC, with the clear intent to retain the fullest national independence of decision in the two pillars of defence and foreign affairs. I strongly support, as we all must, the efforts of the contact group to find a diplomatic solution. But that is very different from committing our national interest to the European Community. Our value to that community lies in the independent judgment we bring to it, and in that connection I warmly welcomed what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, had to say.

I well recognise that there are many complex issues to resolve and many conflicting interests, and I will spare your Lordships from outlining them since they are all familiar to you. I hope, however, that our decisions will take account of three major policy aims. The first is to retain NATO's power to deter in an unstable world. That requires the continuing commitment of the United States to NATO and not to any meaningless and powerless front organisation such as the OSCE. Secondly, we must ensure that Russia, while brought into consultation, does not secure any commitment to a veto within NATO as payment for leaning on the Serbs. Thirdly, we should review, if necessary, the United Nations rules of engagement. Not least, however, we should ensure that our defence resources are reviewed to make them commensurate with our real commitments. We should no longer rob Peter to pay Paul and allow the nation to enjoy a false sense of security. Defence can no longer be regarded as a safe area for cuts and there will be a reckoning in the country if it is found that the Treasury's philosophy of saving money costs lives.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Carver

My Lords, I listened with great care to the impressive speech of my noble friend and former boss, Lord Owen, in which I recognised those qualities which I had learnt when I worked for him of idealism, determination and clarity of thought.

I welcome the Government's statement. I welcome their decision to send more troops and I welcome the reasons they have given for it. I share the general sense of outrage in this House over the Bosnian Serbs having taken hostages, or what they call prisoners of war. I agree that their release must be given the highest priority. I have doubts whether making threats will be of much help in that process. I am very much aware that one should not, either in this House or elsewhere, say things which make life more difficult for those who are involved in this very delicate situation all the way down from Whitehall to the soldiers in the front line, who deserve every sort of support we can give them. Of course, that goes for the unfortunate hostages as well.

I am, I think, the only Member of this House—at least of those present—who has established and has been involved in exercising command over a United Nations force. That was in Cyprus in 1964. It is a sobering thought, not irrelevant to today's debate, that, although the Security Council resolution setting up that force gave it a mandate for only three months, it is still there 31 years later. I do not pretend that the problems I faced then were anything like as difficult as those which face the United Nations force in Croatia and Bosnia today, but they were similar in many ways and they were affected by the same factors.

I welcome the reinforcement because it will give General Smith a slightly greater freedom of action—not much, but a little. Freedom of action is something a United Nations commander has little of. He is constrained by his mission, by the number, nature and disposition of his forces, and by the need to be, and be seen to be, impartial between the parties to the dispute. In practice, he is constrained most of all by the fact that, in terms of military strength, certainly locally, the parties to the dispute are more powerful and better placed than he is. The practical facts of life, quite apart from other factors, mean that he cannot force the parties to do what he wants them to, which is usually to observe some agreement which they have reluctantly accepted as a result of his persuasion.

Therefore, while welcoming the Government's decision, I am concerned that they should be clear in their minds and should make clear to others concerned what the future policy and actions of the United Nations force in Croatia and Bosnia should be. There is talk of concentration. I favour that. It is an essential preliminary step to withdrawal, if that is decided on; and, if that drastic course is initiated, it must be before winter sets in.

However, concentration inevitably means that many of the tasks which the United Nations force attempts today could not be carried out. The most difficult decision will be about the so-called safe havens, especially in the Drina valley; and, if those tasks cannot be carried out, then it calls into question the value of the UN's presence.

What reinforcement must not be thought of as providing is the means to enforce on the. Bosnian Serbs a political solution which they are prepared to fight to the death to prevent. Of course, every effort must continue to be made to find a political solution, and nobody has done more in that direction than the noble Lord, Lord Owen. However, it must not be one which would demand a permanent external military presence to maintain. One of the greatest difficulties of a United Nations force is to avoid becoming, or appearing to become, a reinforcement for one side in the dispute. I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, mentioned the fact that often the Bosnian Moslems were trying to get the United Nations force to be just that.

There are two quite different forms of action authorised by the United Nations Charter, apart from the right of self-defence; Chapter VI, dealing with the pacific settlement of disputes, and Chapter VII, coercive action, when it has been determined that a breach of the peace has occurred and members are called upon to provide forces to restore the status quo. The United Nations force's humanitarian mission in Croatia and Bosnia has dragged it into a muddled form of Chapter VI action; but it is perfectly clear that the Security Council has never authorised Chapter VII action and has no intention of doing so. However, the force has been driven into the unsound situation for a peacekeeping force of trying to enforce agreements. It does not have the power to do so and should not try. In a Chapter VII situation, the authority of a United Nations force rests on its superior military power, as it did in Korea and the Gulf, provided principally by the United States. But in a Chapter VI situation a peacekeeping force has to rely on the authority of impartiality, which is derived from the United Nations' wide international membership and support. Without that, its authority is fatally weakened. The proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, as I see it, would be a straightforward Chapter VII situation. Unless it had overwhelming military power it would not have a chance of success, and I would certainly be totally opposed to it.

However, there is another function which United Nations forces fulfil, which was not envisaged by its founders; and that is providing a presence in order to pre-empt intervention by one or more of the major powers. The mandate in Cyprus began: In the interests of international peace and security". It was the fear that uncontrolled violence might lead to the intervention of Turkey, which might provoke that of the Soviet Union, that lay behind it. It was not just the interests of the parties to the dispute. There are some who say: "What possible interest has Britain in Bosnia?". Some people said that when a certain incident occurred in Sarajevo in 1914. We would not like to have seen, or to see now, the United States intervening on the side of the Bosnian Moslems and Russia on that of the Serbs. But it is not inconceivable that the withdrawal of the UN force could result in that.

Those are the kind of considerations which the Government must have in mind as, with their friends and allies, they make decisions about the future. They face agonising choices and deserve all the support and sympathy we can give them.

I cannot refrain from making one other point. Recent events have surely proved that we must devise a better framework for European military co-operation in which France plays a full part. The hopelessly muddled organisation, which Chapter 2 of this year's Defence White Paper describes, is just not good enough.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, I wish to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, on his brilliant maiden speech. As one would expect from a distinguished statesman who has been in the thick of it, the speech contained all the wisdom, realism and perception that we anticipated and obviously at this juncture in our affairs it was a vital contribution to the debate.

The speech also reminded me that lacking, as I do, any detailed first-hand knowledge such as is possessed by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, any observations I make will be of much less value. However, with the indulgence of the House, I must remind noble Lords that some months ago in a debate in the House on Bosnia, I said that if air bombing—and under the circumstances in which we found ourselves I had always been strongly against it—had to be carried out, because we had threatened tough action so often that we had to be seen as being as good as our word, I hoped that all possible moves and counter-moves would be thought through in depth. I hoped that contingency plans would be made well in advance while we still had the flexibility. I said that indulging in such a highly dangerous course of action merely with our fingers crossed would lead us into a very serious situation indeed. I cited as examples of what we must be prepared to do, in advance, the temporary suspension of humanitarian operations, the need to give our troops on the ground more fire power, helicopter support and, temporarily at any rate, to increase their numbers.

For various reasons, we have yet again allowed ourselves or been forced to engage in a half-hearted war-fighting action, with still only peacekeeping capability deployment and rules of engagement on the ground. Thus, we have been unprepared for any warlike counter-measures being taken against us. We have, therefore, at short notice to provide those very reinforcements in size and strength which, had they arrived earlier, might have prevented our present predicament.

I wholeheartedly agree that recrimination—even if deserved—is not at all helpful at this stage. The question is what to do in the immediate future to extricate ourselves from one of the most serious crises facing western Europe probably since the Berlin airlift.

This is where the collective advice of the Chiefs of Staff will be so invaluable to the Government. But the first thing, of course, is to get the troops being held hostage freed. It is easy to say that from a safe distance, but I do not believe that they are in great personal danger. Not even the Bosnian Serbs would want for long to assume the mantle of Saddam Hussein, although he had the good sense to realise that he should release his hostages fairly soon. The wrath of the entire international community which would fall on them and on the Serbs if anything were to happen to the hostages would and should be terrible to behold. The perpetrators of that act of terrorism must be encouraged to remember that.

At the same time, obviously we cannot take any chances. It would seem wise, at least temporarily, as the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said, to suspend aerial bombing. In any case, its value has often been highly doubtful and we should suspend it while at the same time using every other means—diplomatic, international, economic and the positioning on the ground of greater military strength and power to defend ourselves from further military attacks—to put pressure on the Bosnian Serbs and the Serb leadership to effect the hostages' release. Like my noble and gallant friend Lord Carver, I warmly welcome the reinforcement by the brigade group which has been announced, because without pressure and threats or promises which can be fulfilled, one usually gets nowhere in negotiations like this. I was interested to hear from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that it would form part of the UN command under General Smith.

All that may take some time and we must be prepared for the Bosnian Serbs to try, however outrageously, to extract territorial concessions from the holding of the captives. But if cool heads are kept all round and we show firmness, I hope that their freedom could be achieved by negotiation. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Owen, say that he thought there was still a chance and I still hope that, with the warring parties not that far apart in geographical terms, a political settlement might be reached in the not too distant future. Indeed, this latest crisis may be a good window of opportunity to pull out all the stops and make a last effort to achieve that.

However, if neither is achieved or if only the first suggestion is achieved and the fighting goes on, if anything with increasing intensity, we really must come to terms with whatever options are now open to us in a way which we have largely skated over in the past, surviving for a time quite largely, I believe, on the intrepid and charismatic leadership of General Rose and the superb professionalism of our forces, to which all noble Lords have given credit. As is generally recognised, the trouble is that all the options carry considerable risks, the net consequences of which can be measured and accurately assessed only when one considers the consequences of adopting another course.

Doing what we are doing now, half in and half out of the battle, sometimes called "muddling through"— although, as has been expressed on many sides, the benefit it has brought to many people in saving lives and in humanitarian terms has been immense and should never be understated—carries the risk of further humiliation and denigration of the whole status and authority of the United Nations. We have had a dramatic example of that recently demonstrated. That applies particularly if we persist in a largely passive identification with the so-called "safe", but now manifestly unsafe, areas. Here we only raise expectations which we cannot deliver and expose ourselves to considerable risks into the bargain.

As an increasing number of people in the media and elsewhere seem to urge the Government to do, we could get shot of the whole wretched business. The extrication would not be easy and, so we are told, would require many more troops to achieve it without interruption and casualties. However, the proposed reinforcement now being sent would certainly help in that respect, give us flexibility and allow us to make some adjustments. In any case, we should not persist with a policy which may lead us God knows where, merely because it is dangerous and expensive to stop it, if to get out is, on the best advice, the wisest course.

But if we were to cut and run, together presumably with everyone else, could any of us who believe in international order hold up our heads again? Such an act would result, as has been said, in grave humiliation for the United Nations. It would presage a fierce intensification and possibly a widening of the war; and it would probably create the conditions for a Serb victory. Given that— however absurdly Bosnia was recognised as an independent sovereign state—it would be embarrassing to say the least. The outcome would have repercussions for the stability of the southern flank of NATO, as well as compromising the United Nations' efforts at peacekeeping and mediation for perhaps decades to come.

Finally, we could grasp the bull by the horns and try, in conjunction with others if they would come with us, to impose our will on the transgressors by indulging in war fighting, which so far, with a few unsuccessful exceptions, we have done our very best to avoid. Here the risks are more obvious still. Still more troops would be required; and in that terrain, with an implacable foe, we could so easily become sucked in and bogged down, as the Germans were in this very area in World War II, as the Americans were in Vietnam and the Russians in Afghanistan.

Such action, even accepting that vital interests could be held to be at stake, could only remotely work in a NATO context with a strong, effective, well-balanced NATO corps employed and operating away from white vehicles, as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said. It could work only if we made up our mind as to whom we were fighting. We could not fight two sides at the same time. It could work only if the objectives were strictly limited; that is to say, if we did not try to enforce arbitrary boundaries and acquire territory hut tried to make safe areas truly safe, and also demilitarised, to be used as a springboard for negotiations from a position of strength. It would work only if the governments concerned were confident that, despite the undoubted casualties that would accrue, even in the pursuit of limited objectives, they could count on the support of their own public opinion.

Although from this new position of strength all efforts would be made to keep negotiations for a political settlement going, there could be no guarantee that the one would lead to the other or that the military objectives, however limited, could be achieved and sustained before the winter set in. Judgments on these difficult decisions can be made only with the best possible military advice as provided by the Chiefs of Staff, and in close consultation with commanders on the ground and other close allies.

In conclusion, I make three points. If, and wherever, we do maintain troops on the ground, they must have the strength and authority properly to defend themselves. The reinforcement gives us a chance to do that. Secondly, it is no good raising the expectations of the local population in areas where we have neither the strength nor the will to deliver them. Thirdly, whatever we decide, let it be with due recognition of the long-term consequences and repercussions on the future stability of western Europe and the future maintenance of international order world-wide. And let us not be prepared, despite the pain and grief that we may have to suffer, to put these principles in jeopardy for the sake of short-term convenience. If that is also the philosophy of Her Majesty's Government—as I believe it is—then I wholeheartedly support it.

4.24 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, as a former private soldier following two field marshals, I shall spare the House any reflections on the military situation. I wish to raise only one, albeit important, point. It arises from a comparison of some of the remarks of the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal in his opening speech with the very important analysis of the situation given by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. My point is this. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, based his case for what the United Nations had attempted and what it should attempt in the future on the concept of impartiality. Given two warring factions, peoples, or whatever one would like to call them, the United Nations can function only if it regards them both as equally innocent—or, if one prefers, equally guilty. On the other hand, the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal said that one of the preoccupations of Her Majesty's Government was the fear that the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina might spread to the rest of the Balkans.

It seems to me that there is some lurking discrepancy. If we ask why such a conflict might spread, supposing that there was a total withdrawal of the United Nations or following some other event, it could hardly be the result of the ambition of the Bosnian Moslems. So far as we know, they have no territorial ambitions outside Bosnia. Their main concern must be to protect their citizens in the far from safe havens to which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, referred. We must therefore conclude that the anxieties of Her Majesty's Government relate to the possible ambitions of the Serbs. That is to say, they must at times reflect—this is a matter to which I have had the temerity to call to your Lordships' attention in previous debates on Bosnia—on the fact that the concept of a greater Serbia, a Serbian empire dominating the Balkans as it did in the 14th century, is an idea that has not been abandoned and which has been manifest in more recent history.

If that is their view—and otherwise I do not see why we should be anxious about Kosovo or Macedonia; as I say, these are areas in which we know there are Serb ambitions—surely what we have to do if we are concerned with a peaceful settlement is seek means of persuading both the Serbs in Bosnia and Mr. Milosevic and his government that such an ambition is unacceptable to the rest of the world. We must persuade them that they cannot re-create a position of this kind, although obviously they have the right to look after the interests of their nationals, their co-religionists or members of their community who happen to be outside the borders of Yugoslavia. I have argued this case in this House before. There is only one way in which that can be done, and it is, I understand, part of the efforts of Her Majesty's Government at present; namely, by persuading the Government of Russia that they must take upon themselves the responsibility for limiting the ambitions of the Serbs.

I was very struck this morning—and I much hoped that the noble Lord might be in his place this afternoon—to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who preceded the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in the thankless task of mediating in this conflict, say that he thought one of the errors that had been made in our diplomacy was giving Russia the feeling that its co-operation was not fully sought and desired. It may be, in the current nationalist mood which seems to have gripped Russia, that this is now not possible and that at the moment they are quite happy to see the Serbs—their ancient allies or, if one prefers it, their protégés— cocking a snook at the western world. But it seems to me that we should still have to pursue that course in the hope that they too would come to realise that their expectations of raising the standard of living of their people and moving towards greater harmony at home can only be attained if they are on friendly terms with the major powers of the West. Therefore, we have to hope that, conscious of that, they will come to see that it is hopeless to encourage the Serbs in ambitions which cannot be reached, through methods which are revolting and which the Russians themselves have condemned.

Returning to my original point, while impartiality is clearly desirable—we should not wish to take sides and say where particular lines should be drawn on the map, as that must be for the parties—impartiality does not mean symmetry. The two sides in the conflict—I leave out the Croats—who are basically fighting now in Bosnia are not symmetrical in their ambitions. Unless we realise that they are not symmetrical, our diplomacy, upon which in the end we have to rely, runs the risk of grave disappointment.

4.31 p.m.

Lord Howell

My Lords, I suppose like all colleagues in the House who are participating in this debate one must be aware of one's inadequacy in making a contribution to this debate about such a terribly complex situation. That is even more the case with me, having listened to the quite exceptionally brilliant speech of my old colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Owen. I congratulate him sincerely on it.

I should like to begin with a few markers. First, there are the contradictions and the difficulties involved in the United Nations command, especially as we see it exercised on the ground in Bosnia. That is a matter of concern. It raises matters of history which certainly need to be debated in this Parliament, but not today.

Another question of major importance for the future concerns the position of NATO and whether or not it is practical for a military command to be subject to detailed control by such a multinational, political hierarchy as the United Nations is bound to represent. I think it is not.

Thirdly, there is the point touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, with which I entirely agree; namely, the relevance of defence cuts (which this country has been making with abandon) in the light of the developing situation. Again, the House will have to return to that subject before long.

Some noble Lords are members of the British delegation to the North Atlantic Assembly. Like two other colleagues in this House, I have just returned from the annual meeting of that assembly, which contains not only all the parliaments of NATO countries but also an extended European presence, including all the EU countries. The House may wish to know that on Monday this week, on the insistence of the British delegation, that remarkable gathering of parliamentarians held an emergency session to debate this subject. There was near unanimous agreement—two delegates voted against it—to the effect that the action that the British Government have taken was well justified and that the activities of the Bosnian Serbs must be wholeheartedly condemned. From several hundred delegates, those who voted against were two German delegates: one was a communist and the other, I understand, represented the Green Party.

What encouraged most of us was the extraordinary contribution made in that debate by the Russian representative, who told us that he spoke with the full authority of his government. I took great heart from what he said because there were no caveats and no negative approach. Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff; and that makes the point. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said on the radio this morning that we have not involved the Russian Government in our collaboration over this affair in a sufficiently forthright manner. Having listened to the Russian Federation delegate and believing him, as he said, to be speaking with the full authority of his government, I feel that there is much room for encouragement in developing that situation.

One of the points made very strongly in this debate by my noble friend Lord Callaghan was the uncertainty, which has to be cleared up, about the role of our strengthened presence in Bosnia. Not only is it absolutely vital that the British forces should understand what that role is—and having listened to the Secretary of State for Defence on television last night I was left more confused than before he started to explain it—but it is also extremely important that the Bosnians understand what will be the role of our new augmented defence presence.

I hope, too, that the Government will insist that the United Nations—I understand that it will meet later in the week with the presence of foreign secretaries—also make clear what the overall objectives should be. In particular, it should address the issue of the rules of engagement, which seem to me to be totally lacking, in making a positive contribution on the ground. It is no longer possible to perform just the humanitarian role, vital though it is. I agree that it has been magnificently carried out by the British forces so far. Nor do I believe that air strikes can make a significant contribution to solving the problems, though I accept that from time to time the commanders on the ground may need to exercise that option.

It seems to me—this is the principal contribution that I wish to make—that those facts do not lead to a conclusion, much canvassed elsewhere, that we can have no part in the civil war. All the indications are that, if the United Nations and NATO leave the field, this is not a civil war which can be confined to one country. As has already been mentioned in the debate, there is a grave danger that our withdrawal will leave the risk of a much wider conflagration throughout the Balkans. If we did withdraw it would not be sensible to leave the Russians as the sole major diplomatic presence in Bosnia. That would be a disastrous situation to leave behind.

I conclude my thoughts, therefore, with the hope that the heavy artillery commitment and the inevitable widening of the NATO and British roles which must follow will cause the Serbs to come more quickly to their senses. If that happens, then the Government will have judged the situation correctly and deserve the support of this House.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, one certain way of becoming instantly unpopular at a time of crisis like this is to use the four simple words, "I told you so". However, I must take that risk today, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall did, and ask your Lordships' indulgence while I remind the House that in February of last year, when the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, moved that this House take note of the situation in Bosnia, I warned of the dangers of the "something-must-be-done" school of foreign policy in which television reports play a disproportionate part in decision-making.

In the same speech I expressed grave doubts about the wisdom and efficacy of air strikes as an isolated form of military action. I raised the possibility— eyebrows were raised at the same time—that the Serbs might use hostages as human shields to insure themselves against such attacks. I warned of the dangers of what I regarded as the new interventionist appetites of the United Nations bureaucracy. Later last year, when the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, then Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, repeated in your Lordships' House a Statement made in the other place on events in Gorazde, I warned of the dangers of engaging in the use of armed force without a clear and achievable military aim.

In the course of my observations I said something which, if your Lordships will permit me, I should like to repeat verbatim from the Official Report because it has now been borne out by events. I said: 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".—[Official Report, 14/2/94; col. 52.] That is precisely the situation in which we now find ourselves, except that in my view it is still not too late to avoid humiliation.

I recognise, having said all that, that recriminations about past mistakes are not very profitable or constructive and I take no pleasure in contemplating the present situation. Nor do I direct any strictures I might make at Her Majesty's Government, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said. In my view there has been a failure in the international community as a whole to recognise the causes of the war in former Yugoslavia. As the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, perceptively said, that has led to the fallacy of moral equivalence in which either everyone is in the wrong and everyone is to blame, or no one is in the wrong and no one is to blame. However, it may be argued that moral equivalence is a fallacy. We can also argue, as some noble Lords have, that the recognition of Bosnia was premature and that the embargo on supplies of arms to that country is perverse and mistaken. On the other hand, we can also argue, and many have, that if resolute action had been taken at the outset this crisis might have been over in a matter of weeks.

But all that is in the past. The difficult task for responsible political leaders is to make plans for the future and especially to devise means of extricating ourselves from the immediate crisis. It seems to me, as it has clearly appeared to most noble Lords who have spoken, that the first and immediate priority is to secure the early release of the UN soldiers now held as hostages or, as the Bosnian Serbs claim, "prisoners of war". If that ludicrous claim ever had any basis it was lost the moment the men were used as human shields to deter the United Nations command from the further use of air strikes. As other noble Lords have said, it is a flagrant contravention of all the conventions and agreements on the conduct of war which all civilised nations and communities respect. If I may be allowed a personal reflection, as one who served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, I feel a special bond with the men of the regiment who have been treated in this outrageous way.

There have been suggestions in the press that British soldiers held in this way might be freed by the use of force and, of course, the magic name of the SAS has inevitably been much in currency. Whether or not such an operation is feasible is a matter for military commanders to decide in the light of the intelligence at their disposal. I should have thought that aggressive diplomacy, with the unequivocal support of the Russians, would be a much more flexible and successful weapon. On the other hand, the Bosnian Serbs show little sign at present of being much impressed by diplomatic pressures or of paying much attention to the opinion of the international community. Therefore, as already stated in the debate today, those of us outside the decision-making process can and should only offer the Government the full support and encouragement of this House in whatever action they decide to take to secure the safe and early release of the hostages.

But once that has been done, longer-term decisions of a crucial kind must be taken. No one could accuse me of being opposed to the appropriate use of military force in pursuit of national interests. But I have consistently held—I know that this has caused dismay to some of my colleagues—that no specific British interest is at stake in former Yugoslavia. Until British soldiers were taken hostage, I believe that that was so. By the same token, once they are released there is no discernible specific British interest remaining apart from what has been pointed out, quite rightly, as the contribution we can make to the prevention of the spread of the war. That is a different role from the one in which we are now engaged in former Yugoslavia.

The Government must decide whether to continue indefinitely their military involvement in Bosnia or contemplate withdrawal—obviously a dread word to some people. It is a decision which, if it were taken, would have to be reached in full consultation with the other troop-contributing countries.

As my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall said— I believe my noble and gallant friend Lord Carver mentioned it also—military withdrawal in the face of the enemy (and that is how the Bosnian Serbs regard themselves) is one of the most difficult and dangerous of all military operations. In this case the withdrawing forces would have to take account not only of the possible actions of what one might call "the enemy", but also of what their "friends" might do to prevent a withdrawal at the same time. The Government and their military advisers have, in my view wisely, as the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal confirmed today, decided upon the deployment of precisely the kind of forces which would be needed to cover such a withdrawal if that withdrawal were decided upon. In that context I welcome the decision to mobilise and dispatch those forces.

I know that the possibility of withdrawal is regarded by some observers as a humiliation for the United Nations and a savage blow to the attempts of the international community to establish a system of international order. So it all may be. On the other hand, we must contemplate the alternatives. If we decide not to withdraw, the only clear alternative is to reinforce. Things cannot go on as they are.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, painted an alarming alternative scenario in which, if I understood him correctly, we were to mount in the former Yugoslavia the kind of operation which we deployed against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf. We have heard the contributions of the two noble and gallant Lords who have been chiefs of the defence staff. I believe that they, like any competent and experienced military analysts, would agree that the dangers of becoming further and more deeply involved in this war in Yugoslavia are alarming indeed.

It is not just a question of sending out more troops until you think you have got the situation under control. There are considerations like major supply airfields, properly defended; headquarters to be set up and protected; and lines of supply and communication to be established and secured. A mixed force of all arms would have to be deployed with air and possibly naval support. We are talking here not of brigades or small reinforcements of troops but more in terms of divisions. We are talking of tens of thousands of troops provided by us, perhaps in consultation and collaboration with others, at a time when, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, pointed out, our military resources are already overstretched.

Then, suppose that we were prepared to accept all that and we deployed this large fighting force in the Balkans. When it is deployed, who is the enemy? What is the military aim? How do you know when that aim has been achieved? How long will it all take? The Government may have to prepare for months, perhaps even years, of involvement with the attendant costs in life and treasure which would be massive. We can also be fairly confident that when the inevitable casualties began, the electronic warriors or, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, described them, the "laptop bombardiers", namely, those who are always ready to demand a tough line in Bosnia, would be the very first to raise the cry of "Bring the boys home!".

This is an agonising decision which the Government in company with their friends and allies in the international community have to take. The logic of the current crisis is now emerging clearly. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, expressed it with great clarity and passion. There is a very grave danger of escalation and of being sucked into something of which we may be able to discern the beginning but certainly cannot discern the end.

The noble and gallant Lords, Lord Carver and Lord Bramall, have both followed the logic of the situation. They come not to entirely identical conclusions, but very similar ones. It seems to me that what emerges from the debate and all the thinking that one has had to do about it is something very close to what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said in his outstanding maiden speech. Before another winter sets in, we shall have to make up our minds about the situation. In my view, the Government should now seriously consider, with their partners in the international community, the possibility within a reasonably short time—perhaps even a predetermined time—of military withdrawal from the Balkans. There is no shame in that. We have taken a major and honourable part in a United Nations operation which has failed, as in my view it was bound to fail from the very outset. One of the cardinal sins in military operations is to reinforce failure. I beg the Government not to make that mistake.

4.54 p.m.

Lord Greenhill of Harrow

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has had to withdraw from the debate and therefore I take his place earlier than I expected.

When, in the latter part of March, we debated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, a good deal of pride and satisfaction was shown by the majority of Members. It was at that time I imagine that the celebration now prepared for 26th June was decided upon. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, clearly indicated such an idea in his speech. But at this very moment I wonder whether such a celebration will in fact be timely.

At that time I felt more pessimistic than the majority of Members and considered that the United Nations had long been failing in its main purpose and needed to revise its policies. Perhaps I may quote my own words in the March debate. I said, It is not improbable—and indeed likely—that the Serbians will win the … war despite their … cruelty, treachery and deceit".— [Official Report, 22/3/95; col. 1246.] We may now be reaching that very point. In my view we must strongly support the policy of the present Government and the majority of the opinions expressed in this House this afternoon. We can try our utmost to avert the catastrophe by a determined mixture of diplomacy and force. It is essential that the contact group keep together. We are reassured by the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, this afternoon. I trust that he will not have his offer to resign acted on.

In this morning's newspaper I noticed that the French are giving orders direct to their own troops. Is there any significance in that particular fact? I would not be surprised if the Serbs attempted to give favours to the French in order to divide us, but I feel reassured that the French would never oblige them. But on the assumption that the policy of the United Nations ultimately prevails—and I cannot believe, hearing so many qualified people speak this afternoon, that this success will not eventually come our way—or even if it fails, we must consider at once how the United Nations organisation can be reformed to avoid a repetition of such failures.

I suggested in our debate in March that a modest sized international commission should be set up to think again how the United Nations can be adapted in the light of the world situation today. That idea was not well received by the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, but I recommend that whatever the outcome of the present crisis, a deep revision of the organisation should be carefully considered.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, a few years ago I was asked whether I was in favour of the European Community or against it. I responded by saying that it was an irrelevant question and not a sensible question. The important thing is what we made of it. In that context, I think the question of our involvement in Yugoslavia is not whether we should be involved and effectively try to dominate the situation and sort it out or that we should not be involved at all; it is rather how best we can be involved to produce the outcome that we all seek.

I had hoped that I would not need to speak this afternoon because I had hoped that other noble Lords would raise the question that I wanted to raise; namely, the economic background and the Government's projection for the economic situation in the future. Without that analysis and understanding, we do not have an appreciation of the underlying realities.

We have heard some powerful contributions to the debate. Most notable was the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who explained how we had become involved in an escalating situation. He was fearful of the unknown outcome of that escalation. I am sure that his remarks struck a powerful chord around the House as he enunciated the concern that we all share.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, identified the need for a clarity of purpose as regards the extra involvement of military personnel and equipment. He pointed out that in the current scenario the United Nations could not force a solution. Other noble Lords have explained that in an attempt to force a solution, we would be involved in the deployment of hundreds of thousands of military personnel. Effectively, an army, or perhaps two, would have to go to the former Yugoslavia to sort it all out.

One of the questions that we must ask is: what would happen if we deployed 100,000 or 200,000 military personnel? We could exert some pacification on Yugoslavia—the issue relates not only to Bosnia but to the whole of the former Yugoslavia—but what would be the outcome of that deployment? We must address the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, which was: what we are seeking to achieve? What do we hope will be the outcome? Unless the Government can give us some assurance that the economic circumstances of the people of Yugoslavia can be seen to be stable and improving without the use of force by individuals, groups, tribes or nations within that confederation, there will be a continuing source of instability.

Today I have been aware of only one small injection into the debate of the economic element. It was when the noble Viscount the Leader of the House talked about a limited lifting of sanctions on the federal Government of Yugoslavia if they recognise Bosnia. What confidence can the people of Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and those involved in all the different factions, have that their living standards will improve as a result of some diplomatic recognition of a particular boundary? That is a fundamental and crucial question. If the ability of people to earn money and to provide for their families does not exist, there is an enormous temptation, which is used by unscrupulous politicians, to take up force. There is a temptation to shoot one's neighbour on the basis that the unscrupulous politician has suggested that the problem is one's neighbour and not the underlying circumstances.

We must address the causes of those underlying economic problems. My anxiety is that the Government have not yet demonstrated an awareness of the underlying economic causes; that a reduction in living standards and an increase in unemployment creates the social instability that leads to the kind of conflict which we see in Yugoslavia, which we have seen in Northern Ireland and which we can see emerging across the former Soviet Union. There is no recognition that the Government understand the economic causes of such problems. Until the Government recognise them—or until we can get a government who do—I fear for the future in terms of resolving the problems which are so vividly demonstrated in Yugoslavia. They exist too in other parts of the world, and I hope that the Minister will address the issue.

I turn to a matter that has been raised by other noble Lords but it is important that it is reinforced. We are aware of the position of the United States of America. It is not prepared to deploy troops on the ground, but it is happy to bomb from the air and to see an unremitted arms supply to the Balkan theatre. As regards those aspects, I believe that we consider its position to be wrong. I am sure that the Government have effectively explained that view to the American Government. However, one of the most important questions that we must ask is: what is the position of Russia, particularly now that the situation is so delicate? We have heard some half-hearted explanations but we need a much clearer exposition of Russia's response to the latest developments and its commitment to supporting what is being done in the name of the United Nations.

I ask: what is the economic projection for Yugoslavia, and what is the position of Russia as regards the latest situation? I hope that the Government can provide answers. I echo all noble Lords in supporting the actions of our servicemen who are serving under the United Nations flag in Yugoslavia.

5.7 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I first became involved in matters connected with Yugoslavia in 1988 when I was asked to join the first Anglo-Yugoslav round table meeting which took place at Wilton Park. At that time Tito had been dead for nearly a decade and Yugoslavia was in a state of considerable economic turmoil. There was a clear vacuum of power due to an extremely weak collective leadership. At that time the leadership had as its main hope the possibility of a magic "cargo cult" from Mrs. Thatcher and Thatcherism, which rightly or wrongly it saw as being successful in this country, or else, it believed, its future would be secured if it could join the European Community.

The second and last of those round table meetings took place in 1989 in Plitvice in Yugoslavia. I attended that meeting and noted that matters had greatly deteriorated. The local currency was unacceptable for almost all purposes, the deutschmark being used in its place. I heard in detail about the failure of many attempts made throughout Yugoslavia to introduce reforms which one could describe as a form of perestroika. Of course, Yugoslavia had been 10 years ahead of the Soviet Union in having the chance to do that. I realised then that in that particular part of the Balkans strong leadership was needed most. Just as the Cold War, with the aid of the mutual nuclear deterrent, had kept the great powers at peace and away from each other's throats since the Second World War, so, in effect, Tito had kept Yugoslavia at peace.

I cannot say that even at that 1989 round table, which was only a short time before the chaos began, I detected that those people would be at each other's throats. But certainly there seemed to be very little hope for Yugoslavia, as it was constituted, due to the differences of view which seemed so acute in almost every matter which we discussed.

Therefore, the Serbian army, effectively the Yugoslav army, was perhaps frustrated by that period of chaos but saw the opportunity to take over Yugoslavia. One could see that there were two possibilities: either it would become a total military dictatorship; or it would split up into what might or might not be regarded as legitimate component parts. The fact is that it did split up and the countries are now legitimate single countries. As I understand it, that is a fact of international law. They have received the United Nations' imprimatur as separate countries.

Therefore, it is extremely important that we do not regard and talk about this conflict as though it is a civil war, because it is not. If it were, there might be a very strong case for saying that we should not be involved in it. In general, it is unwise for the United Nations or other countries to become involved in civil wars. But we are talking about a legitimate peacekeeping or peacemaking role for which, in a sense, the United Nations was set up. It has never really had an opportunity to play a major part in that until after the end of the Cold War and of the conflict which had always existed within the Security Council.

I have been worried by the effect of American policy. With sadness, I see an infirmity of both judgment and purpose of American foreign policy at present. It seems to me that more and more President Clinton views almost all aspects of foreign policy through the eyes of domestic policy and his understandable desire to survive into a second term. That has been part of the problem that has emerged and which has made the situation so much worse.

We have been told by a number of noble Lords, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, that there is a need to give greater clarity to the mission of the military forces in Yugoslavia at present. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, talked about the need for continuing impartiality. I am sorry to say that I feel that if we are to have the greater clarity which is needed, it will probably mean giving up the military impartiality. We have tried to maintain that, but I do not believe that it will continue to operate with any effect in the future. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, has given three years of his life to trying to make sense of the situation and to trying to contain the madness which is tearing that country apart. As he indicated, I fear that that has so far been a failure.

There is no sign that the Serbs will listen to anything that we say. They may watch to see what we do. When I say that they will not listen to what we say, there is perhaps one exception. From the debate in this House this afternoon there has emerged much talk of whether or not we have reached the stage when we should withdraw. There is no doubt that withdrawal is always a popular and easy policy. Neville Chamberlain had little difficulty in procuring a hero's welcome when he returned from Munich. But I fear that withdrawal will be the wrong policy. That would, perhaps once and for all, remove any possibility that the United Nations might have of creating the new world order for which we all hoped so much after the end of the Cold War and which had a singular success in the Gulf. But, as we have heard from a number of noble Lords, it might also cause this particular conflict to spread not only into other parts of the Balkans but into other parts of Europe and eventually eastern Europe and even conceivably into western Europe, not to mention the Middle East and the Far East.

If we are considering baling out because the situation is too difficult and of leaving those in former Yugoslavia to fight it out, we might be putting the whole world back into the perils of the inter-war period. It is worth paying a high price not to do that.

5.15 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, I am not a great expert on Bosnian affairs. I have listened to every word of the debate today and, frankly, I have become more and more depressed. I have heard that we must find a solution before the winter. The noble Lord, Lord Bramall, I think, suggested that we may have to cut and run. Many of those who are well informed have argued that there is no true British interest involved. I believe that that last observation is totally wrong. A very vital British interest and, indeed, a world interest is involved.

I want to make one-and-a-half points. In particular, I address those who are saying that this matter is none of our business. My main point is that it is vitally important to support the United Nations. It may be that the existing mandate of the United Nations needs to be looked at again. But we must support the United Nations.

I recall well the start of the decline of the League of Nations. In those days, my father was its secretary-general. The decline started when Japan defied the League of Nations in relation to Manchuria. Other nations were quick to take the hint and soon the Italians were invading Ethiopia. Other similar events took place which in turn encouraged the dictators to such an extent that we found ourselves involved in a second great world war.

The point that I am making—and I say this as much to the Americans as anybody—is that we must not give way. There must be no hint of giving way in relation to the policy which is laid down by the United Nations. We must stand firm, even if our troops and their troops are involved.

The half point is the story of the Balkans. We all know how the problem in the Balkans started the first great war. That could happen again. For some curious reason, it is the seat of trouble which sucks in all the great powers. We must find a way to prevent that, partly with the help of the European Union and the different powers that are involved but above all—and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, made this point—we must consult and keep in step with Russian policy.

Your Lordships will recall that a short time ago the bombing of the munition dumps led to the taking of hostages, which is certainly an indefensible action. At that time, the Russians said that they were not consulted. We must learn a lesson from that. We must work in harmony with them. That is in their interests as much as it is in ours. Surely they know the importance of the United Nations and the Balkans. They know how important it is that we should work with them. The fact that we consult them and find a way in common with them is very important in relation to their standing at present, which is at best uncertain because they are no longer the great power that they were a short while ago.

I believe that our troops and those of France and many other nations are serving the very greatest cause: peace and humanitarian aid. If it leads, sadly, to further loss of life that has to be for us, future generations and the peace of the world.

5.20 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, we have been recalled, not so much from our buckets and spades, as from our barrows and trowels, planting out summer borders, tubs and window boxes. But, as so often in life, one is brought up short when one comes up against priorities. I have flown down today as a kind of Valkyrie in reverse. We do not want one more war widow. There is not much to be said about the situation which has not already been well said by noble Lords who really know what they are talking about.

However, I shall speak about priorities. It seems to me that whatever happens in life priorities always remain in much the same order. In 1969 a massive fire took place in my home, half of which was burnt down. The first priority was easy: we had to get out the children and dogs. The second priority was split. My husband tried to put out the fire and I rang the fire brigade for help. We moved on to the third priority which was to contain the damage and save as much as we could. It took eight fire brigades six hours to get the fire under control. Twelve hours later they were still there and there were still a few intermittent flames, but we had got our priorities right. It is the same with Bosnia. The Government have acted with extraordinary promptness and courage. The first priority is to get back our troops who have been taken hostage. My father-in-law served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers before he left to become a founder member of the Welsh Guards. Naturally, both my husband and I feel personally involved. The outrage and shock that our men should have been paraded before the cameras is matched only by our deep concern and sympathy for all the families involved. Like everyone in this country, we pray for their safe return.

As soon as they are safely back our next priority must be the safety of the rest of our troops. The moment that it becomes no longer practicable to keep them there, we must find some means to get all of them out safely. Our third priority must be to cut off the Bosnian flames from the rest of the world. We are all only too aware of the fireball that engulfed the civilised world following the assassination in Sarajevo in 1914. Clearly, those must be the Government's three priorities: to save our men who are held hostage; to pull out our troops the moment that the situation becomes untenable; and to contain the fire until such time as it has died down, when we can go in to feed the hungry, succour the children and old people, and once more help to build a safe world from the ashes.

Our hearts and prayers are with our troops in Bosnia. We pray that our Government will continue to make the right decisions and that our troops will be kept safe in the hand of God.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, over the weekend I happened to read Robert McNamara's book on Vietnam. What emerged from it was that the Americans got deeper and deeper into the tragedy and muddle of Vietnam because at no stage had they clearly defined what they were doing there and under what conditions they would withdraw under any given any circumstances. The Americans asserted that it was a war that the South Vietnamese had to fight by themselves and win—in the early 1960's the Americans were only training—and that they should not get involved. On the other hand, they had in mind the doctrine of the domino effect. If South Vietnam were to be lost all of South-East Asia would fall to the communists. Therefore, although it was a South Vietnamese war the Americans never admitted to themselves that it was also their war. If they took seriously the domino effect they should have gone in fully long ago; if they did not, they should have had a limited engagement.

Today we face a similar kind of problem. On the one hand, we have a limited technical United Nations peacekeeping mission. The mandate has slowly evolved but not in a systematic way. The resources have not been there to back it up, but that is the dimension of the peacekeeping mission in which we are one of the many countries involved, but we are not combatants.

This afternoon I have heard an echo of a slightly worrying John Buchan-type problem in relation to the Balkans. People ask what will happen if the Balkans go up in flames again, or if the war spreads to Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and so on. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said that we had to be there to stop greater Serbia from happening. We must be absolutely clear that these matters are the subject of two completely separate agendas. We are not in the second agenda, and we should not be in the second agenda on our own.

What happened in 1914 was different. This country was a great economic power which over the previous 100 years had followed a systematic policy in European politics of always siding with the weaker side to stop a stronger power. But we were then a much richer country and had the dominant navy and an empire to supply the Armed Forces. Today it is not possible to relive that kind of glorious story. We do not have the money for it or the people to die. We have to be absolutely clear that this is not another attempt to stop a great Balkan war from happening. If it is to be done it will have to be done in another way with another clear international mandate and international army, in which we may play a part but not necessarily the major part.

I do not often disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, but on this occasion I must do so. He said that this is not a civil war. In Bosnia, not in the whole of Yugoslavia, this is a civil war. Just because we see pictures on television of misery and starvation we should not be bamboozled into going further and further into what is ultimately a civil war that we cannot fight on either side. We did not fight in the American civil war in the 19th century. More people died in that war than the Americans have lost ever since. It does not mean that we have to go into every civil war.

It is not a straightforward problem because interests overlap. What are our interests as a nation? What are our interests as a European nation and as a Security Council Member? I believe that our interests as a nation are primarily to make sure that we do not lose the life of any British soldier for no reason whatever. We must get the hostages released safely and bring back as many as possible of our soldiers and other personnel alive and well. That should be our baseline priority.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said that if the hostages were to die the wrath of the whole world would descend on the Bosnian Serbs. I am not very impressed by that. The wrath of the whole world has been descending upon the Bosnian Serbs for a long time and nothing has come out of it. I do not think that we should risk that kind of problem.

The Americans have been very shrewd in that respect. They call it the "body bags issue". That is why they are not there. They are not in Bosnia because of body bags. I am all for altruism and all for our being a good member of the United Nations—and I shall return to that aspect later—but not at the cost of the lives of British soldiers. Yes, lives have been lost, but we must minimise it. We saw in the Gulf War how the American strategy was based on the very simple idea that you can spend as much on matériel and bombs as possible, but the body bags must be minimised. That is our first priority as a nation.

As a European nation, we have a problem. Although we are in a UN peacekeeping force, there are echoes of longstanding battles—that is, longstanding European national divisions which have always been present in Yugoslavia and which are now revisiting us. We all remember that it was the German recognition of Croatia which escalated the problem. That has to be said. The Germans have always been friendly to Croatia, and the French have always been friendly with Serbia. That is old history which hardly needs to be repeated. Whenever Britain went in, we went in on one side or another of a conflict only because of a longstanding principle of diplomacy. I should like to argue that we ought to abandon that stance. We no longer have that kind of pan-European power or interest. We must ensure that, if our interests as a European nation are involved, we only go in if we do not become involved in old European quarrels.

Finally, there is our interest as a Security Council member. While the noble Earl, Lord Perth, argued very strongly for our interest as a good UN member, we must recognise the fact that UN peacekeeping is in a transition. The United Nations does not have much experience of such situations. It is only since the Cold War ended that we have an active UN presence. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, reminded us, there are UN intervention stories which have lasted 30 years. Indeed, there is, for example, the one in Kashmir which goes even further back. There are still UN soldiers in Kashmir. That problem has not been solved.

Therefore, I would argue that the UN peacekeeping operation in Yugoslavia is very muddled. It is muddled because it is mixed up with NATO air power and UN peacekeeping forces on the ground. I have to say that that is partly where the Russian problem comes in. Although NATO has a capability of doing what it is doing, it is not a United Nations body. Therefore, there will always be the problem with the Americans riding high in NATO and who will use the organisation for their purposes and, therefore, the Russians will never like what NATO does, I believe that we have entered into a muddled arrangement, and the sooner it is clarified the better it will be.

From now on until about November 1996 we shall have the vagaries of US presidential politics in which both sides—that is, the Republicans and the Democrats—will mess about with the Bosnian problem and do things without consulting their allies for purely local, political purposes. If we are going to lose lives because of local, political and presidential purposes of either party, there is no justification for it.

I turn now to the choices that we have. Eventually, of course, we shall withdraw. We will not leave the troops there for ever, but the only question is: how soon? I agree with most noble Lords who said this afternoon that we cannot withdraw immediately. That is fine. But should we withdraw soon? For example, should we say, "This is getting nobody anywhere. The UN presence is actually preventing the political discussion which could take place if the UN was not there. We should let the various groups settle their problems themselves".

If we conclude that the UN presence is actually counterproductive—and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said that in his excellent maiden speech— as regards achieving a political settlement, regardless of the harrowing television pictures of winter and so on, we should say, "Be gone". The alternative would obviously be to stay for ever. We cannot do so because the longer we stay, whether by accident or by design, lives will be lost. We cannot let that happen just because we have not clarified our minds.

The other option is to withdraw, but to withdraw on certain conditions; for example, when the job is finished. I would argue that it is not a well-defined job. There is no actual end in sight whereby we can say that, when a certain thing happens, the UN peacekeeping force will withdraw. I argue that it is not our task to stop greater Serbia, or whatever it is. It is not even our task as one of the members of a UN peacekeeping force to say, "We will go when the Bosnian Serbs accept the settlement that they were offered, which they have not as yet accepted". They may or may not do so, but that is not part of the job of the UN peacekeeping force. The force went there for another purpose. We cannot continue giving humanitarian aid for 35 years, as has happened in many other UN operations with the blue berets. They have sometimes been 35 or 45 years in the same place.

I do not believe that we can actually say that we will withdraw when there is peace in Bosnia or in Yugoslavia. That is not the task of the current UN peacekeeping force. If peacemakers in Bosnia decide that there should be a completely different mandate or a totally different arrangement, we should reconsider, under that programme, whether or not we want to go. That may require divisions, but it is a whole different scene. I do not think that we should go into any of this by default. We should not sink into it just because we have not made up our minds on what we are doing. The clearer our minds are about our commitments—and I hope that they are limited commitments—the more lives we shall save.

5.38 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, our first concern as politicians must of course be for the soldiers and the service people who represent us and the policies that we put forward from this House and which come particularly from the Government. I should like to endorse what has been said from all parts of the House about the position of the hostages of the UN peacekeeping forces, especially those from the RWF, some of whose families are known personally to me. As has been emphasised, all our thoughts are with those families and with the soldiers concerned.

I have every confidence both in the personal skills and in the level of training of the soldiers and believe that they will be able to sustain themselves in such difficult circumstances. However, it is most important that we have an early initiative in order to ensure that the hostages are returned. That may require intermediaries, whether it is Russia or whoever, in terms of the international pressure which needs to be put on the Bosnian Serbs in this case, as has happened in other cases. That seems to me to be the immediate priority. It would be most welcome to have a reassurance from the Minister at the end of the debate that it is certainly the priority of the Government to ensure that the hostages are released and that every possible diplomatic pressure is exerted to ensure that that happens at the earliest possible date. Clearly, the restoration of the rules of war and the rules of law and order in this context is a priority that we have to pursue.

The second issue is the whole question of the diplomatic initiatives that need to be continued. We have had a clear exposition, in a masterly maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Owen on this Bench, on the issue that faces the international community in the case of failed and divided states.

It is all very well for people who discourse on these issues to look at the levels of history which appear to be embedded in these questions. However, there is always a political trigger. These conflicts are not about ethnicity, linguistic conflict or historical reparation. They are about the short-term manipulation of ethnicity, political conflict and the lack of economic development, all of which have been referred to by noble Lords. They are about the manipulation of those issues in specific contexts of power. That is where we see the growth of violent movements which use force in order to maintain their own power. The history of this conflict in former Yugoslavia is perhaps the worst example in the post-modern world of what happens when state systems collapse.

That brings me to the next point, which is that we do not have the international mechanisms to deal with the problem. The United Nations is, by definition, a group of united nations. It has not become an international force for effective intervention, either political or military, in collapsing states, whose ruins are manipulated for short-term political objectives by parties using violence and force as part of their political agenda.

That is why I believe that we now have to look to ways of moving on from the mandate system and the humanitarian support system to a system which combines the use of diplomacy with the use of direct force in limited circumstances in order to provide the response mechanism necessary at an early stage to prevent the collapse of a state from leading to protracted conflict. That is simple to state as a piece of political theory, but it is much more difficult to achieve.

That could only be achieved progressively as the United Nations, NATO and the European Union develop the skills to do that. It will be case-by-case success or failure. That is why I am so concerned about the demands for rapid withdrawal which seem to be made from certain quarters in the case of former Yugoslavia.

It is essential that we emphasise the limited success of the activity, both military and diplomatic, in Croatia. It is essential to point out that events in Bosnia-Herzegovina would have been much worse had there not been the limited presence and diplomatic activity. So we must look at the relative success as well as at the relative failure of international law and order operations in this field; otherwise, we shall be denying even the limited achievements of what is bound to be a difficult lesson in international diplomacy. After all, to make a general comparison, the development of internal law and order in so-called democratic and orderly states was not the achievement of a single century. Certainly, the achievement of international law and order in situations of ethnic conflict and state collapse manipulated by politicians will take even longer.

5.44 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, many years ago the late Lord Vaizey said to me on the eve of an economic debate, "This debate will be interesting because it will be all those retired people from the Treasury and retired Chancellors of the Exchequer who ruined the economy 10 years ago now telling us how to put it right". I have a terrible feeling that this debate on Yugoslavia today is exactly the same. We need to think long, hard and ruthlessly about what has happened.

What are British interests? The job of Her Majesty's Government is to make sure that in this country we can wax rich and prosperous and free in our own society. Are we in any way progressing that by stopping the Serbs cutting the throats of the Moslems and the Croats? I suggest that we are not.

We have a situation in which Yugoslavia broke up, the international world recognised Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia; and, with the exception of the Greeks, it recognised Macedonia. The Serbs decided that they shall have greater Serbia. What was the international response? It was a dithering response. It was not regarded as an issue that those involved could sort out for themselves. It was half recognition. Then the government of one country was recognised as party to a civil war and the international community said that the aggressors were equal. That was not logical.

The international community expects the Serbs to behave in a civilised way. The Serbs learnt their politics first at the feet of the janissaries and then of the Waffen SS. Then Tito slaughtered lots of Croats. The Karadjordje dynasty, which ruled Serbia first as a satrapy of the Sublime Porte and then later as independent kings, had their throats cut in 1840. One or two of them survived and they cut the throats of the next dynasty in the 1890s and clawed their way back to the top. That is Serbian politics, and that is something with which we should not in any way be interested. It is nothing to do with us.

There is a great divide in that part of the world. It is where Diocletian split the Roman Empire in half in 283 AD along the borders of modern Bosnia. It is the dividing line between the Turkish empire and the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Austro-Hungarians never captured Belgrade, or if they did they were soon forced out again. It is the dividing line between orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. It is the great fault-line in Europe. That fault-line will not be made any better or any worse by the presence of British troops there.

The Prime Minister says that it is a major British interest that we should have our soldiers there. I strongly suggest that it is not. He says also that if anything happens to them he will let Mr. Mladic and Mr. Karadzic know how cross he is. What happens if, in the long tradition of Serbian brutality, they place a sergeant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers against a wall, accuse him of spying and shoot him in front of the television cameras? That is something that the Serbs are quite capable of doing. What happens? Does the Prime Minister send PC Dixon of Dock Green to talk about a parking ticket? What will he do?

We have got to get out, my Lords. There is no benefit in staying. We are about to send another 5,000 soldiers there. They will go in with their kit. Their kit is expensive. Once they are there no one is going to want them to leave. So what will happen? They will have to make a fighting withdrawal, lifted out by helicopter. Everyone will want their 105 mm guns. If you are a Serb, what you really want is a lovely, brand new Chieftain bridge-laying tank. That will give you an immense amount of help. That cannot be taken out with a Chinook helicopter. The roads are narrow. They are like the roads coming back from Kabul in 1841. We are not going to be able to get out. If we are not careful there will be a humiliating withdrawal, with a lot of kit left behind; and the situation will continue and get worse. This is a disaster in which we should not have found ourselves.

After our last debate my noble friend Lady Chalker said to me outside the Chamber, "Michael, it's much more complicated than you think it is". I am now going to do something which is much more fun than anything else on earth, and that is to say "I told you so". I am going to quote from my favourite speechmaker, to whom you may not realise you are now listening. In that debate on 14th February 1994, at col. 64 I said: It is into that cauldron that the UN placed 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.

If a lieutenant in the Life Guards, who resigned his commission to the immense relief of his commanding officer in 1960, could see that, why could not the Government see that that was going to happen? It was foreseeable; we did foresee it; and the sooner we get out the better. We have no conceivable interest in defending the Tightness of the Bosnian cause, which undoubtedly it is; against the aggression of the Serbs, which it undoubtedly is, and all we are doing is risking the lives of British soldiers. The sooner we are out, the better.

5.51 p.m.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, we listened this afternoon to a remarkable and fascinating speech from the noble Lord, Lord Owen. I do not think I have ever heard anybody command his subject with such intricate detail and knowledge. He has also devoted so much work and trouble in trying to get a solution, and I am very sorry that he never actually got one, although he may yet have something left to try. However, I do think it would be remarkable if he were to succeed in the time. Having heard this splendid speech from the noble Lord, Lord Owen, he was promptly followed by the former Prime Minister who made him his Foreign Secretary. That was another remarkable speech. Because I agree with both noble Lords, your Lordships will be glad to hear that I have somewhat shortened my speech. Their theme was, "Don't get in so deep so that you can't get out: make sure you have your lines of retreat secured". That is the only sensible reason why the extra troops have been sent to Yugoslavia. They are obviously meant to cover our withdrawal when the Government decide that the moment has come to make it, and in the most decent way possible.

I assume that the Cabinet would agree with just about everything the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Callaghan, said. The only problem left appears to be the Foreign Secretary. He talks of a peacekeeping role and an ongoing one, and he says it is our duty to accomplish this. I imagine that must be the same view as that of the Foreign Office. He prophesied that if we do not do this we will have an Armageddon on our hands; it will be back to 1914, and the whole world will blow up. This is rather like seeing history through the wrong end of a telescope.

It may be an admirable idea; but if you were to keep the peace in Yugoslavia, you would have to send in at least half a million troops and you would also have to keep them there for 30 years. Also, the moment you took them away again things would start all over again. In any case, where would these troops come from? We have no forces left now that the Government have reduced them to almost nothing. The Americans will not send them, and other people would be unwilling to contribute. So while I do not believe that this is back to the Sarajevo of June 1914, I think that our servicemen should not have gone there in the first place. I always thought that from the moment the serious fighting began and we failed to recognise Croatia in the first instance so that it became a one-sided conflict from the beginning. It was all obviously going to end in confusion and strife.

We should not embark on this highly flawed life-risking exercise; and the sooner we can get rid of it the better. I have a feeling that the Government have the same view. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord the Leader of the House on his excellent presentation of a balanced, cautious but purposeful case. I should also like to congratulate the Prime Minister on his dignified and resolute leadership. In other words, I agree with him and with the Leader of the House; and I also agree with the noble Lords, Lord Callaghan and Lord Owen. I hope we shall proceed along those lines.

5.54 p.m

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I first repeat what was said by my noble friend when he apologised for the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. I want to make clear that it was no wish of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, not to be here, but he is totally unable to be here for reasons he could not possibly control. He would have wished to be here; indeed, I would very much have wished him to be here.

Secondly, with very great pleasure I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Owen, on a most remarkable speech, as many other speakers have said, coming after a most remarkable period of service of a quite unique kind. Some of us had the opportunity to work with the noble Lord in circumstances far more peaceful, although they did not always seem so at the time, than the circumstances in which he has been involved in the last few years. We came to know that he was a man of the greatest determination: there might indeed have been moments when we thought of it as stubbornness. But stubbornness or determination, those qualities have served exceedingly well in the Yugoslav situation. Many people in Yugoslavia and other countries that have contributed to the attempt to make peace in Yugoslavia have every reason to be grateful to the noble Lord. We salute him for what he has done.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, we do most sincerely support what the Government are doing. We are entirely behind them in the sending of troops and in the determination to continue to try to find a solution to a seemingly intractable problem. We know how difficult it is and we know the risks that are being taken, but we believe that it is right, first and foremost, that we should attempt to get the hostages back to safety. We should continue the work we have been doing in Yugoslavia, to which the noble Lord, Lord Owen, has so remarkably contributed, in attempting to bring about a peace.

I thought I detected in what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said that there were perhaps still some hopes that a peace might be arrived at. There was even a hint of that—perhaps I was wrong—in what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said. There could be a chance (could there not?) of that happening? Surely one of the essential elements would be to make sure that the Russians are on side. If there is an action recently of which we might well be critical, it is—if it is true—that the NATO attack took place without the understanding, consent and support of the Russians. Surely, to put it mildly, that was rather unfortunate. With the ancient history of Serb relations with Russia, it is surely apparent that the Russians must be deeply involved in any decision taken and that if they are involved then surely hope is not dead.

I believe that some of the parallels that have been made, for example with Vietnam, are mistaken. This is a very different situation. We are not here fighting a proxy war—not, that is, if Russia can be kept in line with the other powers. The fighting is going on between people of very much more limited resources, however bloodthirsty their determination. If, no doubt in part because of the Russian influence and also, one is surely right in saying, of the sanctions, provided they are enforced adequately, Milosevic will really take the line of making clear to the Bosnian Serbs that they are getting no support from Belgrade, then surely that must be one way in which it is still possible to achieve a peace.

There was just one aspect of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, which filled me with some dismay. That was the decision, in his mind, I think, to give a date after which there was no point in going on, saying that another winter could not be faced. The noble Lord's knowledge of those winters is of course incomparably greater than the knowledge of anyone else here. But do we have to give a date at the present time if there is still a lingering hope of being able to get a settlement without pulling out?

The first point I wish to make is: let us not give up yet. I believe that I am interpreting the Government's intention rightly when I say that they have not given up yet and to that we give the greatest possible support. What has depressed me in today's debate, however, is the assumption by so many speakers that we shall have to pull out. Not only that—and it may well happen in the end—but many speakers seemed to think that that would be the end of the matter. It cannot be the end. That is what is so dangerous. Speaker after speaker spoke as though we would say, "Get out. Wash your hands of it, it is all over. Three cheers." What a legacy to leave behind in one of the most explosive parts of Europe! What will the Moslems think? I am well aware that there are no whiter than white characters in the Balkans with the situation that we face. However, the Moslems have been more sinned against than sinning, if there is any group of whom that can be said. The Moslems are Moslems; the Moslem issue in the world is of the greatest importance. What will other Moslem countries think if the Moslems are abandoned, as it will seem to them, by a pull-out? That is one of the highly undesirable fall-outs of washing our hands, walking out and saying, "It's no good going on, it's all over". That is one issue.

Secondly, other noble Lords spoke as though the fears that have been expressed about Macedonia and Kosovo are trifling, the fear that it might expand again. It is not impossible that that could happen; it is possible. It is a hideously dangerous situation whatever we do. That is the only way in which we can face it. The balance of danger and of advantage in what we do is difficult to strike. But to assume that once we pull out it is all over bar the shouting seems an extraordinarily dangerous attitude to adopt.

Above all, if we pull out and leave it at that, what will be the reputation of the UN? This year we celebrate not only 50 years after VE Day, but 50 years of the United Nations. If it is shown that the United Nations can be defeated by gangs of thugs in the Balkans and we can do nothing about it, what will the world think of the United Nations? What is the future for the attempt at international action in order to deal with the inflammable situations that arise across the globe?

Many people in your Lordships' House have given time and thought to the establishment of the United Nations. We cannot quietly sit down and accept defeat. My noble friend Lord Gladwyn is not here today. If we were to turn our backs on the United Nations in this way, I for one could not look him in the face.

That is what is at stake. It is a far bigger issue than whether we stay or go. It is the most important of all. If necessary, when everything else has been tried, there may have to be a military solution, but of course not by us alone. It would have to be under Chapter VII and it would have to be a UN enterprise. In the last resort, however, that may be the only thing left if there is to be a future for international peacekeeping on the globe.

6.3 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, let me begin by reasserting what has been said by every speaker in the debate. We on this side of the House share the anger and the revulsion expressed by so many speakers at the taking of hostages by the Bosnian Serbs. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said in his excellent and thought-provoking maiden speech, it is a despicable and cowardly act to round up men without the means to defend themselves, who are serving the international community on a humanitarian and peacekeeping mission.

As other speakers today have said, our thoughts are with the hostages and their families. To suggest that the NATO bombing raid on Serbian arms' dumps could justify that action and the slaughter of civilians is utterly unacceptable. The UN hostages should be released immediately. It is entirely right that the contact group has demanded that their release should also be unconditional.

Let me now repeat what my noble friend Lord Richard said at the outset of the debate. I state quite unequivocally that to withdraw UN troops now as a reaction to Bosnian Serb terrorism would be a disastrous response. I hate to disagree even slightly with my noble friend Lord Callaghan, with all his wisdom and experience from which I personally have benefited on many occasions. However, I think that the risk of withdrawal is greater than the risk of escalation. The credibility of the United Nations and indeed of NATO would be irretrievably damaged. There would also be grave doubts about the international community's capacity to build even a semblance of peace and stability in the post-Cold War era. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, we cannot just wash our hands of the conflict, however dirty and difficult it is, and walk away from it without deeper, longer term consequences for the security of Europe and for the moral authority, not just of the UN but of the UK and our NATO and European allies. Only if the risk to our own troops becomes unacceptable, should withdrawal at present be contemplated. All out war in Bosnia would certainly constitute such a risk. That I accept.

Mistakes have been made in the past over the way in which the Bosnian crisis has been handled, and we on these Benches have criticised the Government and the international communities' actions on a number of occasions. However, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, has already said, recrimination is out of place today and I do not believe it would be appropriate to go over all that old ground again. I am glad that most speakers avoided that. The debate has instead focused on how to respond to the latest crisis and what needs to be done in the immediate future to try to get closer to re-establishing peace in the region and at least to limit further damage.

The Labour Party rejects the rather narrow view of British interests as expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont; and endorses the Government's decision to strengthen considerably the number of British troops in Bosnia by sending reinforcements. I was a little surprised that the Secretary of State for Defence, when he was questioned earlier this week, was unable to say whether or not the troops would be under UN command. However, it appears that this has now been resolved and the Leader of the House has told us that they will be. I wonder how anything else could have been contemplated in the circumstances. My honourable friend the Labour spokesman on foreign affairs in another place has called for resolve, unity and clarity of purpose. Clarity of purpose is certainly needed with respect to the future role and deployment of the troops. I look forward to hearing a little more from the noble Lord winding up for the Government about what is intended.

Certainly on these Benches, we dissociate ourselves from the concept of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, of a new fighting force. The troops should be there to enforce the existing United Nations mandate, maintaining the principles of impartiality to which various speakers have referred. As the Leader of the House and many other speakers have made clear, we are not in Bosnia to fight a war or to take sides militarily.

There has been little indication so far of the position of other countries with troops in Bosnia. The Leader of the House made the briefest of references to it. Are the French, for example, also sending in significant reinforcements? Have any other countries been asked to do so? If so, who are they and what are the likely numbers of troops to be? There are rumours that the USA and the French are sending aircraft carriers into the area. If so, what is the military thinking behind this?

Similarly it has been suggested that the US may send equipment to the area to boost United Nations capability, and that the US will now consider— consider—a request to use American ground forces to help redeploy the peacekeepers. As my noble friend Lord Richard said, it is surely time that the US did a little more than exert pressure for air strikes. It is not acceptable for commentators in a country that is a permanent member of the Security Council and a leading contributor to NATO to shrug this situation off as a European problem or to vilify the efforts of people such as Cyrus Vance. I believe that the present American Government reject this view, even though it is frequently expressed by some of their opponents. But if they dc reject this view, perhaps they ought to reconsider their position and stop focusing so much of their attention on the over-simple solution of air strikes.

While accepting that the Minister cannot give details about military plans, can he, when replying, give the House some more general information about whether any re-grouping is planned? Are the UN troops to be concentrated in fewer areas? Are the so-called safe areas to be redefined, withdrawn or reduced in number? While up to a point I accept the strictures of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, on the safe areas, will the consequences of any such revisions for the humanitarian effort to protect civilians and to provide food and other vital goods be taken into account? If any safe areas are to be abandoned, what are the longer term implications with respect to the territory held by different groups and further negotiations about that territory?

Turning to the diplomatic effort, however difficult a negotiated settlement seems—and others have spoken in this debate who have every reason to be deeply pessimistic about it, notably the noble Lord, Lord Owen—we must surely continue our efforts, as the noble Lord himself said, to reach a negotiated solution.

My noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned the involvement of the Russians at all stages in these efforts. That must surely be the right approach. Their historical ties with the Serbs mean that pressure from them on the Bosnian Serbs to release the hostages immediately has a better chance of being successful. Similarly, their direct intervention in discussion about a future settlement, while of course being no guarantee of success, is surely important. Clearly any progress in these negotiations will also be affected by the attitude of the Belgrade Government and what that government are prepared to do in exchange for a change in policy on sanctions. Has Mr. Milosevic given any indication of his position since the latest crisis began. Can we assume that President Yeltsin has been asked to pressurise him to put heavy pressure in turn on the Bosnian Serbs to release the hostages and, along with the other parties, to return to the negotiating table? Perhaps the Minister can say something about that.

There are some reports in the press that the position of the Bosnian Serbs is now weaker than it has ever been, either politically or militarily. If that interpretation is valid, now is certainly not the time to give way to Serbian blackmail. It is said that by the standards of the past their ammunition is now running low. That is one explanation perhaps of their desperate response to NATO targeting of their ammunition dumps. It appears that support from Belgrade has been evaporating over many months, although it would clearly be complacent to regard this as a permanent change rather than a possible response to sanctions. All of this also suggests that assuming, as we all hope, those troops that have been taken hostage are released in the near future, no new concessions should be made to the Serbs when efforts to reach a negotiated settlement begin again.

The self-indulgence and inflexibility of all the parties in the Bosnian conflict have been the main obstacle, the main block, to reaching a solution. However, we should be honest about the fact that one of the things that has dogged the handling of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia at certain times in the past has been serious disagreement among our allies about what to do. I was glad to hear from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that there is now unity. What we and all our allies share is a strategic interest in preventing a wider Balkan war, which the Prime Minister rightly suggested yesterday was more likely to happen if there were to be a withdrawal of UN troops in the present circumstances. We share, too, a wish to limit the bloodshed, the killing or maiming of innocent children and old people, the descent into medieval atrocities on European soil. Those such as the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, who cast doubt on whether the UN operation in Bosnia has achieved anything, must at least concede that 2 million people have been provided with food and fuel through three winters as a result of the humanitarian relief columns. Without that relief, many more would have died from hypothermia and malnutrition or the diseases that result from those. Finally, we share a wish to stand out against extreme forms of nationalism which lead to the horrors of ethnic cleansing and the collapse of civilised society as we understand it. It is, then, in the interests of all of us in the post-Cold War world to take a stand against this vile and hideous ideology.

There must now be concentrated joint action in which we co-operate together to resolve this crisis in a united way. This must take place not just in the contact group, but in the Security Council in New York. Failure to resolve our disagreements simply plays into the hands of the warlords. More importantly than that, the UN must be able to demonstrate that it can act decisively in the circumstances that we are now in. At least one positive outcome of the current situation is that UNPROFOR, which, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and others said, having been denied the troops that it needed to do the job that it was asked to do—a job that has increased in complexity with each new UN resolution—will now have more troops at its disposal.

In conclusion, those in the press and elsewhere who are now calling for a withdrawal from Bosnia need to consider the consequences for the United Nations all over the world and in the rest of the region. To start with the Balkan region, withdrawal from Bosnia would almost certainly mean withdrawal from Macedonia and Croatia. This would in turn have serious consequences for Kosovo and the rest of the region. Beyond the region it would send a signal that the taking of hostages works. No UN peacekeeping operation would ever be secure again from this form of terrorism wherever it might take place in the world.

It is for these and other reasons that I set out earlier that the Opposition supports the Government in the decisions that they have made so far in response to the latest developments in Bosnia. We must of course be constantly aware of the dangers of being drawn into an escalating conflict. Of course we should not try to punch above our weight. Nevertheless, as this debate has by and large suggested, this is a time for firm resolve, diplomatic and military engagement within the context of the UN mandate, not for retreat into an isolationist and narrow conception of British interests.

6.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley)

My Lords, I begin by echoing the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and other noble Lords in offering my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, on his maiden speech. On behalf of Her Majesty's Government I also comment on what the noble Lord has achieved in his exertions over the past three years in what must on many occasions have seemed the most thankless of thankless tasks.

The noble Lord has worked with extraordinary and enormous skill and determination to promote peace in former Yugoslavia. In Bosnia, the Vance-Owen plan of May 1993 was, as all noble Lords will remember, accepted by all parties. But then, the Bosnian Serbs withdrew their agreement. Had they not done so, the misery of the past two years in Bosnia might well have been avoided. Together with his co-chairman, Stoltenberg, the noble Lord has been instrumental in drawing the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia into greater co-operation with the international peace effort. They supervised a mission on the border with Bosnia, observing the Belgrade government's decision to cut off all but humanitarian supplies to the Bosnian Serbs, owing to the Bosnian Serbs' refusal to accept the contact group peace plan.

In Croatia the noble Lord has shown unfailing energy over the past few months in bringing the Croatian Government and Croatian Serbs towards an understanding. The noble Lord deserves much of the credit for the economic agreement of last December between the two sides and its successful implementation during the early months of this year.

Of course, we understand well that the noble Lord should now want to step down after so long in what I have described as a fairly thankless task. I have to say that we very much regret that the noble Lord wishes to stand down. But we also regret, as I am sure he does, that his work has not led to the peaceful settlement for which he has worked so hard. I believe that this country and this House and the entire European Union owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the noble Lord.

Let us be clear about the unprecedented gravity of the current situation in Bosnia. I believe the fact that the House has been recalled from its Recess is proof enough of that. The debate today demonstrates the strength of feeling on all sides of the House on this matter. It is a matter of supreme concern to Her Majesty's Government, to this House and to the nation.

As we have made absolutely clear since the first deployment of British troops to the former Yugoslavia in 1992, the safety and security of our troops is of major concern. Let me also repeat to the House the formal message which Her Majesty's Government passed to the leadership of all the parties to the conflict in former Yugoslavia: the detention by the Bosnian Serb army of British and other United Nations troops and observers is a flagrant violation of international law of the most serious kind. There should be no doubt that, having already issued to those responsible a warning in the strongest terms, the safety of our troops in Bosnia is a vital British interest. The taking of hostages from UNPROFOR, a force which is carrying out a peacekeeping mission under the United Nations' authority, is a despicable act, which cannot be allowed to continue.

Perhaps I may say a few words about the actions that we are taking to ensure the speedy and early release of those hostages. I can assure the House that there is constant contact between Akashi and Karadzic and between our own General Smith and Mladic to achieve the unconditional release of all United Nations peacekeepers who are currently being held hostage. We have also asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to arrange the earliest possible access to the hostages and we demand that Bosnian Serbs comply. We hold both Karadzic and Mladic personally responsible for the welfare and safety of those hostages. I can also give an assurance that we shall ensure that all possible diplomatic pressure will be applied towards their eventual release.

We all know of the immeasurable worth of UNPROFOR's work in Bosnia. Many noble Lords have touched on that. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, recently quoted some of the figures in terms of the number of lives that have been saved and the thousands of tonnes of humanitarian aid that have been delivered by land and air to those hardest hit by this awful conflict—namely, the ordinary people of Bosnia. It is those ordinary people to whom our humanitarian duty is unchanged.

Several commentators and one or two Members of your Lordships' House have said that enough is enough and that we should withdraw our forces from Bosnia. The noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Chalfont, suggested that in terms of imposing a time limit on withdrawal as opposed to the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Onslow of an immediate and rapid withdrawal. But we must not forget—this point has been made fairly forcefully by many speakers in the debate—that such action, while it can never be completely ruled out, would risk provoking renewed violence, possibly on an unprecedented scale, with the inevitable consequences that that would have for the civilian population in terms of hundreds of dead and injured.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made quite clear our conviction that keeping forces in Bosnia will stave off the threat of civilian slaughter on a massive scale. We believe that it would be foolish to withdraw them as a kneejerk reaction to this latest atrocious bout of hostage-taking. We believe that our counterparts in the French Government, with whom we share responsibility as the largest troop contributors to UNPROFOR, share that conviction, as do other major allies, including the United States. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that we shall continue to work in close concert with all our fellow contributing nations to UNPROFOR, as I believe my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal made quite clear in his introduction.

Lord Richard

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. There is a report on the tapes that a Bosnian Serb spokesman has said that his side was ready to talk with the international community about United Nations peacekeepers held hostage: We are calling for immediate discussions and we are ready to meet representatives of the Contact Group in Pale or in Sarajevo". The "information Minister" of the Bosnian Serb Government is supposed to have said that today. Can the noble Lord help us at all on that?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I have not seen that tape and cannot comment in advance. If it is clear that they are prepared to talk—as I made quite clear, Akashi is talking to Karadzic and General Smith is talking to Mladic—obviously we shall talk and continue to talk, as we believe that that is the appropriate way of achieving the release of those hostages.

There is no doubt that UNPROFOR is doing a thoroughly worthwhile job. It has helped to contain the conflict from spilling over into a wider Balkan war. I refer those who reject that concept to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who dealt with that point very clearly; namely, that there is a genuine risk of spillover should we withdraw. If it had not been there, I believe that many of the people who are alive today would have died. With the help and support of UNPROFOR, the United Nations and the countless different aid agencies, the people of Bosnia, have, to some small extent, been able to begin to rebuild their homes and their lives in a very slow return to a semblance of normal life.

We believe that that work must continue. Its value in terms of reducing human suffering is immeasurable. We are all agreed that for it to continue without placing our troops at unnecessary risk UNPROFOR must be better protected. Obviously, we are particularly concerned, as I made quite clear, for the safety of British troops and particularly the British troops in Goradze, as are the other nations for their troops in isolated positions in the enclaves.

On Sunday we announced a reinforcement package consisting of essential specialists from both the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers, which, together with their equipment, will be deployed in tranches over the next few weeks. As noble Lords will know, the first support elements from 19 Field Regiment with their 105 millimetre light guns flew out yesterday to Split. They will continue to deploy by air over the next few weeks. Further, a chartered ro-ro ferry will leave Germany on 6th June with the armoured engineer squadron and elements of an Engineer Regiment. That ship will then collect further logistic elements from the Household Cavalry Regiment in the United Kingdom and should arrive in Split some time in the middle of next month, June. Signals personnel and two additional Lynx helicopters will leave by air over the next few days. The theatre reserve force will be operational as soon as it has joined the United Nations forces that it is there to support.

We are determined to meet these latest and unpleasant developments with the appropriate resources. Our aim is to ensure that the safety of British forces in the theatre can be enhanced to allow them to continue their mission.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister for information. Are those guns and engineering equipment to be painted white or khaki? If they are white guns, someone will shoot rather easily at them.

Lord Henley

My Lords, as I shall come on to explain, our forces will be serving very much in a blue beret role and will be wearing blue berets. As to the precise painting of the guns, it is a matter that will have to be considered. It is quite clear that there will be large UN insignia on them to make it clear that they are United Nations' forces. Whether we shall go so far as to paint them is another matter. I hope that the noble Earl will be prepared to accept that I would rather not be drawn over much on that particular point at the moment.

Perhaps I can say a word about the role of the reinforcements, under whose command they will be and what they are setting out to do—points put to me by both spokesmen of the Opposition Front Bench. As my right honourable friend made absolutely clear, they will work within the United Nations mandate. As the noble Baroness will be aware, the Secretary-General of the United Nations is about to set out the options in a report, including how to continue the mandate for safe areas. There is clearly a strong case for making UNPROFOR less vulnerable by regrouping the outlying United Nations monitors on the advice of the commanders in the field. A fundamental change in the mandate, such as a withdrawal from the safe areas, would require a decision from the United Nations Security Council. We are awaiting the report and will respond in due course.

I should make clear also that the purpose of the reinforcements is to support the British and other United Nations forces who are already deployed as part of UNPROFOR in a highly volatile situation; to protect them and enhance the capability that General Smith has under his command. I can give the assurance that they will be under the overall command of the United Nations commander in Bosnia, General Smith. As regards immediate deployments, as I made clear to my noble friend, they will be deployed in a blue beret role.

Moving on to the deployment of 24 Air Mobile Brigade—the bigger part of what we have to offer—it will be at 72 hours' notice to move by Sunday of this week. We decided to offer that brigade to the United Nations under similar conditions to our current deployments. We are discussing the details with them. It has been welcomed by UNPROFOR and we envisage that it will be placed under the command of General Smith in Sarajevo with the support of the existing mandate.

Those reinforcements will provide valuable additional assets to strengthen the ability of the UK contingent in Bosnia to defend itself. The safety of British troops is of vital concern. If they are attacked, they must have the ability to defend themselves robustly.

We believe that those arrangements are a robust, timely and proportionate response to the unacceptable events which have taken place in Bosnia in recent days. In parallel with the Government's continuing determination to support the UN's humanitarian mission in Bosnia through the provision of military personnel and equipment, we are determined to act with our allies to pursue relentlessly a diplomatic solution to the crisis through a negotiated political settlement. We believe it offers the only opportunity for a lasting peace in Bosnia by which all the parties can abide.

The package of measures to which I have referred is one which we consider will help to underpin that diplomatic process. It will allow us to continue the humanitarian aid effort which is badly needed and has brought relief from suffering to so many innocent civilians and their families. It will also ensure that troops deployed in support of the mission are able to protect themselves in the face of increased hostility from the parties to the conflict or in the event of further deterioration in the situation on the ground.

Other noble Lords, quite rightly, paid tribute to our Armed Forces. I should like to conclude by also paying tribute to those who are, who have or who will be serving in this theatre. On many occasions, they have given us reason to be proud. Their professionalism and ability rightly makes them the envy of other nations. Individually, many have been honoured for their unstinting service and bravery. We are asking them to perform an essential humanitarian task, often in very difficult conditions. I believe that we are in their debt and that it is right to provide them with the means to do this necessary work without unnecessary risk. I am sure that all sides of the House will wish to join me in expressing our gratitude to them. I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before seven o'clock until Monday, 5th June.

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