HC Deb 29 April 1993 vol 223 cc1167-248

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. MacKay.]

[Relevant document: the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 23rd April 1993, relating to sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro.]

Madam Speaker

Today's debate is on Bosnia. I remind the House that, because of the great interest in this subject, I will have to limit hon. Members to 10-minute speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm. I hope that hon. Members who speak outside that period will help the House and limit the length of their speeches.

May I make a point about the digital clocks which cannot be restarted without an engineer entering the Chamber? However, I think that we can manage without them, and I draw the attention of hon. Members to the clocks that are operating in the Chamber.

4.23 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

It is right that the House should return again to the tragedy of Bosnia. I am sorry that, because of the state visit, I cannot stay until the end of the debate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will reply to the debate and of course the views of the House must weigh heavily with us as we continue to consult our allies.

Before I come to the policy issues, I should like to give the House a short update on developments on the ground since I made my statement in the House last week. At that time, 19 April, our concern was focused on the outrageous Serb attacks on the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. Thanks to the courage and determination of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees staff and the United Nations protection forces, particularly the 200 Canadians now in the town, the situation there has become somewhat better. A ceasefire is holding, although it is fragile. More than 700 wounded have been evacuated by air and food convoys are getting through.

The House may know that on Tuesday an Overseas Development Administration British aid civilian driver, Jerry Swallow, leading an aid convoy in northern Bosnia, suffered serious shrapnel wounds when the convoy was attacked by mortar bombs. He has been treated in a Canadian field hospital in central Bosnia, where his condition, after an operation, is much improved. He has our sympathy. He was wounded in a good cause.

Since last week's statement we have seen further attacks launched by Serb forces near the UN headquarters at Kiseljak and around Bihac in the north-west. The swirl of violence is sometimes hard for us to piece together. The Serbs clearly bear the greatest share of the blame for starting the war and for the atrocities that it has produced, but they are not uniquely guilty. The recent carnage in central Bosnia committed by the Croats and occasional evidence of Muslim atrocities against both Serbs and Croats vividly illustrate that no side has the monopoly on evil.

This is not a war with saints or heroes. We all share the revulsion forcibly expressed about Croat atrocities by Colonel Stewart of the Cheshires. He was right to be angry and the dedication and commitment of Colonel Stewart and his men deserve our highest praise.

Our armed forces and British civilians, of whom I have just given an example, continue to play a leading part both in bringing relief from the suffering in Bosnia and in enforcing the arms embargo and the sanctions. Since November, our troops have escorted more than 500 convoys carrying nearly 35,000 tonnes of aid. In 460 flights to Sarajevo the RAF has carried more than 6,000 tonnes. We have contributed over £92 million to the international relief agencies directly and through the European Community. This British effort has helped to keep alive hundreds of thousands who might otherwise have perished this winter from cold and hunger. We must sustain the effort for as long as the need is so great and for as long as the situation on the ground allows.

We are all conscious of the moral and public pressures on the international community to do more, to intervene more actively to stop the carnage. Those pressures are sincere and must be taken seriously. However, we also have to remember the nature of this problem. We are witnessing a civil war in Bosnia which is encouraged and overwhelmingly fuelled by Belgrade. We should not pretend that, from outside, we can ensure a solution. Even a prolonged military commitment by the interational community could not guarantee that. It would convert Bosnia into a protectorate for an indefinite period without a certain outcome. In practice, no Government—I am not speaking about columnists—are seriously suggesting that.

As the House knows, our troops are in Bosnia for a humanitarian purpose and we do not intent to convert them into an army of occupation or an army fighting to impose a particular solution on the problem by force.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree, as he has in the past in the House, that if a peace settlement is agreed it will have to be internationally guaranteed, with all the consequences of that guarantee?

Mr. Hurd

That is quite a different proposition. Work is going on in NATO and elsewhere on how, if there were a credible and durable agreement, the Atlantic alliance under the authority of the United Nations might help to keep it that way. I am sorry to say that, as my hon. Friend knows, that prospect has receded quite substantially in the past few weeks. It may return, and I shall come to that matter later in my speech, because in the end the only durable answer is a negotiated political solution. That solution will have to provide ways in which the three communities in Bosnia can live and work together, if not in friendship, at least not in war.

If we accept, as I have argued, that military intervention on the ground is not an option, we are faced with a choice of lesser options to achieve that objective. None of them can be guaranteed to be wholly effective. All have drawbacks, some more serious than others. We must keep in mind our overall objectives—to provide a framework for a political solution, to press the Serbs, in Bosnia and in Serbia, to abandon the pursuit of their aims by the use of force, to relieve humanitarian suffering and to prevent the fighting from spreading—for example, to Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia or, indeed, beyond.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Hurd

I hope that hon. Members will allow me to make progress with my speech.

To be sustainable, peace must be based on a settlement agreed by all parties. The fighting cannot by itself resolve the fundamental problems in Bosnia, any more than fighting solved, or could solve, the dispute between Israel and the Arabs. A peace process is essential in Bosnia, as it is in the middle east, and of course a successful peace process involves difficult compromises.

Gains, to be permanent and worth while, must be accepted by others. Military conquest in Bosnia cannot achieve gains which are accepted. It is not enough to fly flags over ruined towns and villages. Worthwhile gains are not to be secured by making a desert and calling it peace. There is no future for Bosnian Serbs down that path, if they look beyond the coming days and weeks. The only alternative to a real negotiated settlement is indefinite fighting and suffering.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

In regard to United Nations resolution 828, what progress has been made in setting up an international war crimes tribunal? Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that a genuine threat of being arraigned in front of such a court might act as a deterrent to those who sanction acts of barbarity against the poor people of Bosnia and elsewhere?

Mr. Hurd

It might. I do not deceive myself that it is a certain remedy. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that the Security Council passed a resolution asking the Secretary-General of the United Nations to draw up a scheme for precisely such a tribunal. Everybody knows that it is not easy. It has consumed years of work by lawyers in the United Nations, and the outcome is not yet clear, but the Secretary-General has been asked to do that and we shall help to forward that work as best we can.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)


Mr. Hurd

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but then I must make progress with my remarks.

Mr. Mullin

The right hon. Gentleman said that it must be made clear to the Serbs that aggression does not pay. It is clear, is it not, that aggression for the Serbs unhappily has paid? The only time that it will not pay is when they realise that the UN is serious and is prepared to back up threats with credible force. Is it not an unhappy fact of life that only a credible military force—on the ground, not bombing—will make any difference? Are we not deluding ourselves if we talk of any other alternative?

Mr. Hurd

I shall be coming to that issue. The hon. Gentleman's premise is wrong, as he will see if he considers the matter in detail. One does not secure anything seriously—for our children or ourselves—by raising flags over ruined towns and villages. There is nothing secure about that. It is a temporary gain, but it must be accepted if it is to result in any real benefit. That is the point I am making and why we have given our full support to the efforts of Lord Owen and Mr. Vance.

Two sides in the conflict—the Muslims and the Croats—have accepted the peace proposals. Lord Owen has been tireless in his efforts to bring the Bosnian Serbs around, exploring every possibility for compromise. So far, they remain intransigent. The plan remains on the table. It incorporates a number of guarantees to take account of Bosnian Serb concern to ensure that key decisions in Bosnia cannot be taken without the consent of the Bosnian Serbs and that they have unimpeded access, monitored by an international authority, between their provinces.

The political process is not dead and sooner or later, for the reasons I have put before the House, the parties must, and will, come back to it. The Vance-Owen peace plan is not a sacred text. Adjustment to it is perfectly possible. The political process is essential because it is the only realistic way forward for Bosnia, and the choice facing not just the Serbs but others is how long it takes to realise that and for how long the fighting and suffering must go on.

I come to the means of pressure, because persuasion has to be backed by pressure. The main, agreed, instrument of pressure on the Serbs has been, and remains, sanctions. I do not claim, and the House would not accept it if I tried to, that sanctions alone can guarantee success. I do not wish to follow the example of those who, in the past, have given a time scale for the effectiveness of sanctions. However, if carried out in a rigorous and determined manner, they can make an important difference. Combined with economic mismanagement, they are already having a harsh effect on the economy of Serbia and Montenegro. Monthly inflation in March was 225 per cent. Industrial production is half the level of 1990, more than 70 per cent. of the work force is idle and shortages are becoming the norm.

There are signs—I put it no more strongly than that—that under the pressure the leaders in Belgrade are becoming increasingly impatient with the Bosnian Serbs, whose territorial ambitions threaten to involve the whole Serbian nation in virtual isolation from the rest of the world. Those signs are insufficient. The Government in Belgrade can do more. We believe that they can exercise decisive influence on the Bosnian Serbs by cutting off economic and military support.

On Monday this week, a letter from Mr. Milosevic and three Serbian presidents to the Bosnian Serb assembly urged full acceptance of the Vance-Owen plan. It came days after the television station that carried the letter urging acceptance had been demonising Lord Owen. Public opinion is split and confused in Belgrade. We have to increase the pressure on the Bosnian Serbs and on Belgrade. That is why on midnight last Monday, a tighter and more powerful regime of sanctions was applied to Serbia and Montenegro. I am referring to Security Council resolution 820, through which we aim effectively to close Serbia's border. We are pressing forward with efforts to ensure that the provisions are translated into a blockade.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Is the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary able to confirm the reports that some of the shelling of Srebrenica took place from Serbia? If that is so, does it not make nonsense of written appeals to the Bosnian assembly and cast doubt on the use of the phrase "civil war"?

Mr. Hurd

It is a civil war in the sense that the huge majority—more than 90 per cent.—of those fighting are Bosnian. They are Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims. What the right hon. Gentleman says may be true. Certainly, there are supplies and encouragement from Serbia. That is why the pressures which I am describing are directed overwhelmingly against the Serbs as well as the Bosnians.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Iain Duncan-Smith (Chingford)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hurd

I do not want to take up the whole afternoon. I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan-Smith) and then I must get on.

Mr. Duncan-Smith

In line with what my right hon. Friend has said, so that there is no confusion, will he confirm that, in the past 15 months, Croatia has taken shipments of some $320 million-worth of imported arms of all kinds, from aircraft through to powerful tanks, so the whole area is awash with arms? It is not just the Serbians who are involved in the matter.

Mr. Hurd

I cannot confirm my hon. Friend's figures. I shall come to the arms embargo and I hope that my hon. Friend will agree with me from his analysis.

I wish to deal briefly with the four main areas of sanctions. It is important that the House should understand what we are trying to do. On the Adriatic sea, since Tuesday we have new powers to prohibit all commercial and maritime traffic from entering Montenegran territorial waters unless specifically authorised. HMS Cardiff has been in the Adriatic with other ships for some time. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Western European Union forces in the area should be able to stop illegal passage by sea.

In the Danube, it is much more difficult. There are plans to deploy a WEU monitoring flotilla. We support that and are considering what we can do to help. The British are already providing a communications system between the states on the river, which is crucial for this purpose. We are anxious that the operation should begin as soon as possible.

The land borders are almost equally difficult. All freight and rail border crossing points should now be closed, with limited and specific exceptions. People are able to move from one country to another, but goods cannot, except for food and medicines.

We have to find the best ways of monitoring the new sanctions. We have sanctions assistance missions in all the countries concerned and they are being reinforced. We are considering with the United States and our EC partners how those numbers can be doubled, and we are tripling our own contribution of customs officers.

Finally, on financial sanctions, Lord Owen believes—and I think that there is evidence for this—that these are the most crucial of all. The financing of trade is just as important as its physical passage.

Since Tuesday, the obligations on Governments worldwide to enforce financial sanctions against Belgrade have been tightened even further. Funds outside the former Yugoslavia cannot be used for the benefit of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or of any commercial, industrial or public bodies in Serbia and Montenegro. We now have the power to freeze the flow of any Serb assets of even indirect benefit to Serbia.

There have been some real and publicised problems in Nicosia, Cyprus over the enforcement of financial sanctions. The Government of Cyprus have now announced certain measures to help bring them into the mainstream of enforcement. Those measures are welcome, but there is still some way to go.

I have proposed that, because of all the institutions involved in the effort under Security Council resolution 820, the Secretary-General should appoint a sanctions co-ordinator—a senior figure who would identify loopholes, have the authority to knock on the doors concerned to ensure that the loopholes are quickly blocked and, where necessary, knock heads together.

I have gone through the measures because on paper, and now in international law, they are formidable. They will not halt the conflict overnight, but they pin down the Serbs and they limit their options. I hope that the message is clear that the Serb leadership has to exercise decisive influence on the Bosnian Serbs by political means, but principally by cutting off military and economic support to them.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Presumably the sanctions will also apply to Kosovo. In those circumstances, what is the point of the sanctions? Might they not be counter-productive all over Serbia and Montenegro?

Mr. Hurd

The sanctions have to apply to Kosovo because, under international law, Kosovo is part of Serbia. The point of sanctions is to intensify the pressure on the Serb leadership to induce it to exercise pressures which could be decisive on the Bosnian Serbs who, although they do not bear the entire responsibility, bear the main responsibility for prolonging the conflict.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hurd

No, I must get on.

I now turn to other options. None of us can refuse to look at other ideas for a way forward. The suffering is great, the prospects for further atrocities are bleak and the glimmers of hope are too dim for us not to examine and re-examine all choices.

Solidarity among like-minded nations is essential. The European Community has worked together, with difficulty, but knowing that one policy is better than 12 and carries more weight than 12. NATO is now involved in different respects, on the Adriatic, as I have mentioned, providing elements of control and command for UNPROFOR. The NATO 16 are working closely and well. The WEU and the CSCE are involved and the Security Council has stuck together.

Work on other options is going on in all the major capitals. Wide discussions continue on three particular policy options in addition to the sanctions choice which has been made. It is now a matter of putting it into effect. Our common aim is to stop the fighting and bring the parties back to the conference table.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

I do not know whether the Foreign Secretary is coming to this point, but if so, perhaps he will allow me to anticipate it. Has he made it crystal clear to the American Administration that if arms are supplied and poured into the civil war, or if bombing is carried out by the United States, that will put at risk more lives and the humanitarian effort and will lead us into a far worse crisis? Has he made that clear to the Americans?

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned two of the three options with which I am about to deal, and I shall come to his point soon.

The first option, which the right hon. Gentleman did not specifically mention, is safe areas. We have already welcomed the UNHCR proposal for safe areas in Zepa and Gorazde to allow the United Nations humanitarian agencies and the Red Cross to operate there. We supported similar United Nations ideas on those lines last July.

An international presence can have a calming effect, as we have seen in central Bosnia, and is invaluable to ensure access by relief convoys. However, there is a limit on what can be negotiated. We are discussing the option of safe havens by negotiation and the number of forces available and we do not believe that United Nations forces could or should fight their way into designated areas, or become combatants on behalf of the Muslim or any other community.

The House will know that in Srebrenica the Canadians have been living through some difficult moments. At one stage last week they felt that they were in acute danger. We have made it clear that it would be inconceivable for us to fail to support them from the air if the need arose.

We have always emphasised the right and determination to use force in self-defence if necessary. Thankfully, the situation in Srebenica is quieter than it was, but that may not last for ever.

Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Hard

No, I shall not give way again, as I have some ground yet to cover and many hon. Members wish to speak.

The second option was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—lifting the arms embargo. The House knows our deep reservations about that. We believe that we should be in the business of trying to stop the war and not equipping the parties to fight it out. The idea is understandably presented as giving the Muslims a chance to defend themselves against the more heavily armed and better equipped Serbs. It is possible that in that way Muslims would get better access to weapons, but the impact on the military situation would be neither quick nor decisive. The Serbs, and possibly the Croats, might decide to attack before the Muslims became too strong.

Far from tilting the balance towards the Bosnian Muslims, lifting the embargo could lead to an increase in the supply of weapons to the Serbs and the Croats. Violence could escalate and the humanitarian relief operations would become increasingly difficult and dangerous. If that were to happen, far from ending the suffering, that course would aggravate it. It could, more than any option seriously being considered, threaten an extension of the conflict into other parts of the former Yugoslavia or beyond. As arms flow into the area, the fighting could overflow out of it.

The third option is that of limited air strikes as a further means of pressure on the Serbs to accept the Vance-Owen plan and as a response to military attacks. That might work as a threat to deter the Bosnian Serbs from further attacks, atrocities and offensive strategies. If it were defied, actual strikes could prevent them from following those strategies. However, there are risks and uncertainties attached to any such action and they need to be thought through with the greatest of care, not just here but in consultation with our allies, before decisions can be reached. In particular, as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield pointed out, the implications for the forces of the United Nations, for our own forces, for humanitarian agencies and for the drivers and civilians carrying supplies through day after day have to be weighed carefully.

We could not agree to action which would put British forces at serious risk. That was put succinctly, as the House will have read, by the chairman of NATO's military, committee, Sir Richard Vincent: Decide what you're trying to achieve before you go out". That is very true. In testimony before the Senate this week, my colleague Warren Christopher, the American Secretary of State, made it clear that air power should be used in Bosnia only after strict criteria had been met.

Those criteria included the assurance that the goal of strikes was clear and understandable to the American people, and that there was what he called an "exit strategy" to avoid becoming involved in a Balkan war. In Washington, on the same day, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said: you cannot allow somebody to go forward and assume you are going to get in and out with a quickie operation. Those are all wise comments.

The situation essentially is similar to that when I reported to the House last week. Those options and others are being considered. We must seek to stick together as we consider those options. We must not allow the Atlantic alliance to fracture on this issue. We are not excluding options simply because they were considered earlier and not adopted. But we in Government, we in the House, owe our constituents, as we said in another context last week, our considered judgment. The worst of all worlds would be half-measures in Bosnia which salved consciences without saving lives.

There is a risk of overlooking the broader picture in that concentration on Bosnia. The break-up of the former Yugoslavia has left a rash of conflicts, not just one. I sometimes think of Bosnia as a fire which is blazing, but there are heaps of combustible material around which we must try to prevent from catching fire. That is why we must support what Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance, soon to be replaced by Mr. Stoltenberg, are doing to prevent the trouble spilling over into neighbouring regions, particularly Croatia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

In Croatia, there is particular concern that moves to announce the unification of the Krajina Serbs with the Bosnian Serbs could lead to a flare-up of the fighting there. Pressure is being brought to bear on both the Croatian Government and the Serbs to hold back from any new offensives and to enable the renewal of the mandate for the 15,000 UNPROFOR troops in Croatia. That is the first force, not the one in which the Cheshires are involved. The continued presence of the United Nations in Croatia is vital if the kind of cruel, bitter fighting which occurred at the end of 1991 in Croatia is to be avoided.

In Macedonia, the greatest risk comes from instability as a result of that country's relations with its neighbours, including Greece. We worked hard, and in the end successfully, to secure Macedonia's admission to the United Nations on terms acceptable also to Greece. Lord Owen and Mr. Vance are now charged with seeking to resolve the difference between those two countries which continue.

At the same time, 700 UNPROFOR troops from Scandinavia, together with monitors from the conference on security and co-operation in Europe and the EC monitoring mission, are active in Macedonia helping to build confidence. There is a case for strengthening that United Nations contingent.

In Kosovo, there remains a high risk that a particularly brutal incident of repression against the ethnic Albanian majority could spark an uprising which could in turn destabilise the region. Under international law, it is part of Serbia. No one questions that. A CSCE monitoring team is active in the province under the direction of the Swedish Prime Minister, the chairman of the CSCE. That mission, he told me this week, is being urgently reinforced; but, undoubtedly, the situation in Kosovo remains dangerous.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Are not the points that the right hon. Gentleman has just made reasons for making it clear to the Serbs that they should stop their aggression now and that they will not get away with ethnic cleansing? If they are allowed to get away with it in Bosnia, will not the temptation be for the Serbs to try it again in Kosovo and Macedonia?

Mr. Hurd

I follow that thread of argument. I am all in favour of finding effective ways in which we can achieve a turnaround in Serb strategies. I have been running through the options and we shall listen to the right hon. Gentleman with great care. I have listed the disadvantages of options, as well as the way in which we are carrying through the option that has been agreed—sanctions. I repeat that we are not excluding further examination and the consultation will continue next week, but it would not be right to refrain, either in private consultations or in dealings with the House, from setting out the difficulties that we see.

Bosnia was once a peaceful, prosperous country, in which all ethnic groups mixed freely. I had a letter last week from a medical student who now lives and works in Birmingham but who escaped from Sarajevo last year and whose family is still there. She wrote: Until the war began, Sarajevo existed as a multicultural, pluralist and peace-loving society. No one cared about the ethnic origin of their neighbours, nor their own for that matter. And people there still live together, Muslims, Croats and Serbs (because Mr. Karadzic is not a leader of all Bosnian Serbs). From my slight knowledge of the former Yugoslavia, I do not believe that hatred and killing are inevitable, somehow irredeemably logged in the history books as something that has to happen. That is not the history of the former Yugoslavia. The killing and hatred will come to an end—perhaps not soon, but never too soon.

We are deeply moved and angered by what has been happening in Bosnia. Why? Because it is carried day by day and night by night in our newspapers and on our television. But Bosnia is not unique, and I end on this general thought. If one visits Japan, as I did recently, one finds that the people there are much more concerned about what is happening in Cambodia. In Moscow, people are at least equally concerned about the killings in Georgia and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Africans are more conscious of the atrocious killings, on a much larger scale, which continue in Angola, Liberia, Rwanda and the Sudan.

All those, and others—I have given only a selection—are wars inside countries in which thousands are being killed and standards of decent behaviour are wholly disregarded. That is why I have always disliked as pretentious the phrase "a new world order". We are wrestling, in fact, continent by continent with ancient disorders fanned into a new blaze by factions and extreme nationalism. It has been so through the centuries. What is new is our awareness of it.

We should not resent the fact that the media bring some, but of course only some, of those horrors into our homes. It is difficult for the television or even the press to convey the complexity of conflict, the spread of guilt, or the difficulty of arriving at the truth which characterises, in particular, a civil war. Nevertheless, they are right to anger and horrify us.

Anger and horror are not enough as a basis for decisions. It is a British interest to make a reasoned contribution towards a more orderly and decent world. But it is not a British interest, and it would only be a pretence, to suppose that we can intervene and sort out every tragedy which captures people's attention and sympathy. I have never found the phrase "something must be done" to be a phrase which carries any conviction in places such as the House or the Government where people have to take decisions. Governments and Parliaments have to weigh and judge. Bosnia is not the same as Kuwait or the Falklands, in history or terrain or calculation of risk.

Decisions cannot be based either on false analogies or on a desire to achieve better headlines tomorrow than today. That is particularly true when those decisions affect human life, and more especially still when the lives are those of British service men or civilians. The instinct to do better, to work harder, to look again at options, even those previously rejected, is a sound one, which we are following. But the decisions that follow must be based on judgment as well as instinct if they are to match the need. We shall continue, with our friends and allies, to apply that judgment.

4.58 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

It was right for the Government to provide time for a debate on Bosnia today and we welcome the decision of the Leader of the House to respond to the request made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition for such a debate.

There are deeply held and genuine differences of opinion on both sides of the House on this nexus of complex problems in the former Yugoslavia.

I make no criticism of those hon. Members who take a different view from the one that I take; nor are there certainties in any of the options that we are considering. I believe, however, that there have been some disasterous miscalculations in the past with diplomatic efforts, particularly in the European Community, over the former Yugoslavia, and that the credibility of the Community has been damaged as a result. We now face circumstances where the credibility of the United Nations itself is being questioned, not just by hon. Members and not just by people in the West as a whole but by many people in Muslim countries, and people in Muslim Governments too.

I want to begin, therefore, by making it clear to everyone that any action that Opposition Members would support, any new departure that we would endorse, would have to be firmly authorised under the provisions of chapter 7 of the United Nations charter, specifically article 39, which says: The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security. I do not believe that we should depart from those provisions.

It is to the decisions of the United Nations that I first want to turn. There is an arms embargo under resolution 713 of September 1991. The United Nations protection force was established by resolution 743 in February 1992. Mandatory sanctions were established under a resolution of the Security Council in May 1992, and the UNPROFOR mandate in Bosnia is under those provisions of chapter 7 of the United Nations charter. I begin with those facts to answer those who say that nothing has been done and to point out that a great deal has already been done to try to deal with the appalling situation in Bosnia.

Who does not share the anger and the anguish of people in Britain and elsewhere about the agonies of the Bosnian people? We all share the anger and anguish, but we should not allow anger to dictate the difficult political decisions that we must make in trying to deal with the circumstances.

I want to echo the point made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about British personnel currently in the former Yugoslavia, all of whom, military and civilian, are playing an effective and brave role in appallingly difficult circumstances. They have earned our lasting admiration and they enjoy our complete support in the tasks that they are trying to carry out.

We gave our support to the London peace conference which eventually produced the Owen-Vance plan. I want to compliment Lord Owen—not always my favourite person—on his outstanding attempts to secure a peace settlement in Bosnia. The peace plan unveiled in Geneva in January 1993 has now been signed by the Croatians and the Bosnian Government but not by the Serbs. Surely the principal political objective of any action we seek to take must be to secure Serbian signatures to that peace plan? We must spell out political aims and objectives before we can begin to contemplate whether any kind of military intervention is appropriate or likely to be effective.

I do not, however, understand why there is such a drawn-out, continuing delay in reaching conclusions. The tragedy is that, in spite of the mandatory resolutions on sanctions of, in some cases, a year ago, no serious effort has been made by the international community to implement them effectively. That is the truth. It is clear that members of the European Community as well as members of the United Nations, including in some respects members of the Security Council itself, have allowed their own economies and their own people to turn a completely blind eye to the mandatory resolutions of the Security Council.

So while we warmly welcome something that we have called for since the summer of last year, namely a complete economic blockade of Serbia—I first called for it on 4 August last year, and I remember the date well because it was my birthday—we regret that it has taken the international community until now to accept that the existing resolutions were being flouted and that they were in no way preventing the Bosnian Serbs from continuing their military aggression in Bosnia. The decision, therefore, is welcome, if somewhat belated.

I recognise too that questions remain about the peace plan that the sanctions are intended to buttress, but Lord Owen has made it perfectly clear that it is open to amendment if only agreement to it can be reached.

Other decisions by the United Nations have been taken in support of securing peace in Bosnia: on human rights, particularly with reference to crimes of violence against women, under resolution 808 of February this year, and on the establishment of an international war crimes tribunal. As, in an incremental way, the international community has sought to bring about a resolution of the problem, we have gone along with those decisions, hoping that eventually they would become effective in a cumulative way, but we must face the reality that they have not done so. Economic sanctions, the arms embargo, the humanitarian aid programme which has been so worth while, the no-fly zone, the resolutions on crimes of violence and on the war crimes tribunal have not stopped the Serbs. They have not stopped Serbian aggression which, regrettably, continues even today.

The Serbs are the principal aggressors although it does not help the case or the credibility of other political leaders in Bosnia—Croatian or Muslim—when the Croatians launch attacks on the Muslims or the Muslims launch attacks on the Croatians. The reality is that among the political leaders as well as among the military leaders in Bosnia there are no innocents. They all bear a grave responsibility for continuing the slaughter in the way they do.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr. Cunningham

In a moment.

The innocents are women and children, elderly people, civilians and non-combatants, the hapless victims of the civil strife that their political and military leaders continue to inflict on them. Surely it is they who should be uppermost in our thoughts. The best way to help them must surely be, in turn, to secure as quickly as possible a peace; an end to fighting; an end to the conflict in Bosnia.

Mr. Marshall

May I first of all apologise to my right hon. Friend for failing to note his recent promotion?

While I do not disagree with a good deal of what he has said, when he uses the term "Muslim" he uses it in the sense of the Bosnian Government, the legitimate Bosnian Government. Although it is true that atrocities may have been committed by that Government, does he not accept the basic fact that, when the Bosnian Government attack the Croatian nationalists in Bosnia or the Bosnian Serbs in Bosnia, they are carrying out the legitimate right and programme of any legitimate Government?

Dr. Cunningham

I accept that civil war is going on in Bosnia, and I also accept that Serbian aggression is taking place.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

I am in the middle of replying to one intervention; I can hardly deal with another at the same time.

The point that I was making is that political leaders on all sides of the conflict are willing to continue to wage war. I do not believe that, in those circumstances, there are any innocents.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cormack

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

I will not give way yet. I am dealing with the point put to me by my hon. Friend the Minister for Leicester South (Mr. Marshall).

Let me refer my hon. Friend to a passage that I came across by accident. It is very relevant to the aggressive nationalism that is now so rampant. In one of his essays, George Orwell wrote: Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage—torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment … forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians—which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side. I am afraid that too many such views prevail now among political leaders in Bosnia.

Mr. Cormack

This morning, the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to receive the Foreign Minister of Bosnia. We recognise the Bosnian Government—a multi-ethnic Government including Serbs, Croats and Muslims; but they have been virtually disarmed while seeking to repel people who are guilty of the most appalling atrocities. Can the right hon. Gentlemen deny for a moment that the overwhelming majority of those atrocities have indeed been committed by the Serbs?

Dr. Cunningham

I have already dealt with that point at least twice. I shall say more about my meeting with Dr. Silajdzic in a moment.

There are arguments for further action in the circumstances that I have described: action to secure peace, to end ethnic cleansing, to stop the killing and brutality, to prevent the destabilisation of the region—to which the Foreign Secretary rightly referred—and to avoid a spread of Serbian aggression into Kosovo or perhaps Macedonia, destabiilising Greece and, possibly, Turkey, Albania, Romania and Bulgaria. The need to uphold the authority of the international community and the decisions of the United Nations is another reason for contemplating further action, different from any that has been taken hitherto.

There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that, if we are to secure compliance with the decisions of the United Nations, we need to do more to deal with Serbian aggression than we have done so far. I am not sure that the necessary international political will exists to support the economic blockade that the United Nations is imposing. It is a sad irony that Cyprus—itself the subject of ethnic cleansing nearly 20 years ago—is now a base for money laundering to support that atrocious act in the former Yugoslavia. There is plenty of evidence that some countries are not ensuring that, for instance, money laundering and the trade in arms and important supplies are stopped.

I do not believe that we can simply stand by and let the present position regarding the peace plan drag on indefinitely. When I met Dr. Silajdzic this morning—I had already had a discussion with him some weeks ago—he made it clear that he did not want military intervention by ground troops in Bosnia; what he did want were air strikes and an end to the arms embargo.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

That may well be true from the point of view of the Bosnian Government, but my right hon. Friend should bear in mind the fact that air strikes without the withdrawal of British troops on the ground would simply put at risk many of my constituents, and those of other Cheshire Members.

Dr. Cunningham

I am coming to that. I am now explaining what Dr. Silajdzic asked me to support on behalf of the Labour party.

I recognise that none of these proposals is without risk: anyone who did not recognise that would be deluding himself. I cannot accept, however, that ending the arms embargo, abrogating the mandatory resolution of the UN Security Council—either by taking unilateral action, or by seeking to change it—and allowing additional arms to pour into Bosnia would do anything to bring about an early peace settlement. I do not believe that it would do other than extend and exacerbate war and conflict. Certainly, it would almost completely end any hope of maintaining an aid programme. The idea that it is the moral imperative of the west to arm the combatants and stand by while they go on slaughtering each other in ever greater numbers does not appeal to me at all.

Nor do I accept the argument put to me by Dr. Silajdzic and others that we have a moral duty to intervene in Bosnia. No one talks about our moral duty to intervene in Angola, where nearly three times as many people have been killed in a bloody civil war. No one says that we have a moral imperative to intervene in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

Not for the moment.

If the fragile circumstances brokered by the United Nations in Cambodia collapse and we see a return of the atrocities perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, will we be obliged to intervene?

Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I do not think that anyone wants more arms to go to the region. Does not my right hon. Friend agree, however, that if there is no willingness to create safe havens and no willingness to stop the Serbs, the Bosnians are entitled to have arms to defend themselves? If we do not accept that, we are saying that we want the war to be ended by the defeat and slaughter of the Bosnian people. Arms are not the best option, but if we do nothing else, the Bosnians are entitled to defend themselves.

Dr. Cunningham

My hon. Friend is a little precipitate in suggesting that I am about to rule out all the other options, but I do not agree that ending the arms embargo would be sensible; nor do I think it likely that the UN Security Council will be persuaded to agree to such a course.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

I am sorry; not for the moment.

There are other options. If, through agreement and negotiation, safe havens can be approved, of course they should be created. I do not believe, however, that we can establish such havens quickly or simply by taking military action and putting in combat troops. That is a fundamental difference between my view and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short).

Indeed, the whole argument that somehow—quickly and militarily—we could impose a peace in Bosnia is not borne out by any sensible, rational examination of the circumstances. It would take weeks, if not months, to assemble a force, set up the logistical support and create the necessary airfields, safe harbours and supply lines. In the meantime, surely the predictable response of the Serbians would be simply to turn up their own aggression to grab as much land as they possibly could.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) mentioned air strikes. I know that they, too, are not risk-free. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition spelt out our view, clearly and concisely, nearly two weeks ago. He rightly pointed out: In recent days the tragic civil war in the former Yugoslavia has produced ever more appalling examples of barbarity as innocent civilians are made the victims of indiscriminate and brutal attack. The slaughter in … Srebrenica and the horrific and ruthless pursuit of the inhuman concept of … ethnic cleansing requires urgent re-examination of the policies adopted by the international community. Last year the United Nations imposed mandatory sanctions against Serbia in an attempt to halt the persistent aggression on which it was engaged. Over the months … we"— meaning the Labour party—have consistently protested at the failure to make the economic and military sanctions effective. Long before now they should have been widened and intensified—and above all, enforced. The sad truth is that so far they have not been a sufficient or effective impediment to Serbian aggression. My right hon. and learned Friend concluded—and I believe that he was right—that the time is now overdue for the United Nations to insist that its mandatory sanctions must be imposed urgently and completely so that the pressure upon Serbia becomes intense. Had this been done earlier, as we have consistently advocated, perhaps we would have avoided reaching the edge of the present abyss. However we are now in a situation which requires a more urgent response … it is now necessary for the United Nations to issue an ultimatum to Serbia—that unless a ceasefire is made effective, the United Nations will authorise air strikes against Serbian lines of communication in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such action is of course punitive, but I believe we are now at a stage where it is necessary to stop the flow of material to the war zones and to make the Serbs realise that the international community is capable of effective action in the course of implementing a resolve to bring the slaughter to an early end.

Mrs. Dunwoody


Dr. Cunningham

I shall come to the point of the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) in a moment.

My right hon. and learned Friend continued: Thereafter there must be continuous pressure to reach a political settlement which is the only way in which some sense of peace and order can be restored. The whole purpose of an ultimatum is not only to give time for compliance but to give time for our own troops on the ground and the troops of other countries involved in the United Nations protection force effort there to regroup and, if necessary, withdraw. That is the reality of the situation. It will take some time, which is why it would be foolish in the extreme to say that we should simply launch air strikes immediately.

Air strikes have some advantages as well as some disadvantages. They can be far more readily controlled, politically as well as militarily, than involvement by ground forces in a combat role. They could be brought to an end and the situation reassessed after air strikes had taken place if the Serbians did not accept the ultimatum. However, none of my colleagues has ever suggested that there are any risk-free options in any of the propositions that we are discussing in connection with this war.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Does not the ultimatum proposed by the Leader of the Opposition have a fatal deficiency—that the sanction that would ultimately have to be invoked would be air operations? By giving notice of them, would not the likely targets be dispersed and the effectiveness of the air operations minimised? In the meantime, the aid work, which has been so effectively pursued by the United Nations humanitarian agencies and our own forces, would be fatally compromised.

Dr. Cunningham

If the purport of the hon. Gentleman's intervention is that risks would flow from taking the type of military action that I am describing, that is undeniable. He has to set beside that the risks and results of doing nothing further at all, of inaction. I have been making clear—as I believe the Foreign Secretary also made clear because it is a point of agreement between us—that those risks go way beyond the borders of Bosnia. They may not only be translated into action by the Serbs in Kosovo or Macedonia, but other people threatening ethnic or religious minorities in other eastern countries and other parts of Asia may conclude from the Serbian aggression that they, too, will be able to treat their minorities in the way that the Serbs are treating minorities or, in this case, the majority, in Bosnia.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

I have been listening carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the risks of doing nothing. Has he noticed that the loudest voices from Labour Back Benchers urging military action are the same voices that were urging that we should do nothing in the Gulf? Does he believe that the hon. Members who have taken that line have now been converted to military action, or is it just that they oppose Government policy, whatever it is?

Dr. Cunningham

Fortunately, the hon. Lady is not eligible but, if she had been able to attend the parliamentary Labour party's debate last week or the discussion of its foreign affairs group, she would have discovered that there are some very unusual alliances in the Labour party on both sides of the argument. As I said at the outset, there are deeply held and genuine differences of opinion about what constitutes the proper course of action in these matters. I do not criticise my hon. Friends for taking a different view from mine but I am expressing the view of my right hon. and learned Friend, endorsed at the meetings that I have described.

Mr. Hardy

Many of us would not shrink from military action in the cause of peace, but my right hon. Friend will know that a number of us have been seeking to make modest contributions of a political nature. Is he aware that, in December last year, at the latest assembly of the Western European Union, which is heavily involved in the monitoring of sanctions, the then chairman of the Council of Ministers, an Italian, enthusiastically embraced the call that any European member state of the Council of Europe, WEU or any other European forum, or any aspiring member state—which may be more relevant—which was involved by negligence or design in the breach of sanctions should forfeit its right of membership of those forums?

The Italian Minister enthusiastically supported that call, then confirmed that WEU Governments had plenty of information about the breach of sanctions but said that he would release that information so that political decisions could be taken. The sad part is that the right hon. Gentleman has gone along with the Italian Minister and left us with an inadequacy in that political approach.

Dr. Cunningham

My hon. Friend said "the right hon. Gentleman", but I am not sure whether he means me or the Foreign Secretary. I hope that he was not aiming that accusation at the Labour Front Bench, because it is from this position that the persistent calls for the effective implementation of sanctions and United Nations resolutions have been coming for almost a year. I understand from my hon. Friend's indication that he was referring to the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Dr. Cunningham

No, I must move on, if my hon. Friend will allow me.

Sooner or later—again, I believe that there is agreement between the Foreign Secretary and myself—there will have to be a political solution to the situation in Bosnia. Sooner or later people will have to accept that they cannot go on slaughtering each other but will have to come to terms with living together as neighbours, peacefully and in harmony or at least without resorting to the violence of the past few months.

We are clear that the political objectives—the peace plan, the ceasefire and the need to bring the combatants to their senses—can be supported only by military action which is endorsed by and has the support of the Security Council of the United Nations. We would not contemplate supporting unilateral action from whichever quarter it was suggested, but we believe that the Security Council should be meeting now to consider the proposal in the terms put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend.

5.29 pm
Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

All hon. Members in the House and everyone outside will agree with the Foreign Secretary's admirable words about the feelings of horror we all have about what is happening in the former Yugoslavia. Of course I share those feelings.

This afternoon at Question Time I asked the Prime Minister to give a clear undertaking that in no circumstances would British sea, land or air forces be used in the former Yugoslavia except for humanitarian purposes. I said that it was absolutely essential that such an undertaking be given because, until it is, every action taken by the Government is suspect and slowly dragging us into the civil war—[Interruption.] It is a civil war. Until we get such an undertaking, the Government's action will be suspect. An example of that is the presence of the Navy in the Adriatic. It has been said that the Navy is there to evacuate British forces. However, everyone suspects that it is there to join in military action if we agree to it.

All the time, we hear sources say that our presence in the Adriatic gives the impression that the Government are evasive or indecisive. Neither of those things is desirable. We must have a clear policy. If it comes to the question of air strikes, surely a decision can be made now—that is, that the humanitarian forces would immediately be endangered. We know full well that that is the case. Therefore, we should say decidely that we will not take part in or agree to any action in the air.

The right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)—as I understood him, because so many of his arguments were contradictory—said, "Of course, we will not agree to the use of armed military force of any sort unless it is sanctioned by the United Nations." In other words, he accepts the use of armed force, provided the United Nations agrees to it. Is he urging the Government, sitting on the Security Council, to agree to proposals for armed force from other countries? If so, he completely denies all his arguments that the British forces will be damaged if air force is used.

Dr. Cunningham

I am sorry if I was as unclear as the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting, but I read carefully what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) said. We believe that the Government should support in the Security Council the issuing of an ultimatum to the Serbians. If the ultimatum is not complied with, selected air strikes should follow. I have said that clearly, and it is what we are suggesting should be discussed in the Security Council. We are asking the Government to put that question forward for discussion.

Sir Edward Heath

The right hon. Gentleman is saying that he accepts the invasion of the former Yugoslavia to deal with the situation. I cannot accept that for one moment. If that is proposed in the United Nations, the British Government should veto it completely. We must not send forces to the former Yugoslavia for military purposes. What balance of advantage can there be if we must immediately withdraw some 2,630 personnel who have done such magnificent work in helping all those wretched people? They are the people who matter. I cannot understand how the right hon. Gentleman can stand up in the House and say, "Take action, even though it will mean that all the humanitarian action will stop." Nor is it in any way justified.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)

The right hon. Gentleman had a proud record in the past in opposing fascist agression at a time when other people were perhaps prepared to appease it. Does he recognise that this proposed course would essentially give the green light to continued Serbian aggression and remove any possibility of our having a sanction to stop the aggression which is causing the most terrible suffering in Bosnia?

Sir Edward Heath

I do not agree with that entirely. As the right hon. Member for Copeland said, we must weigh up the possibilities. It is no use saying that there are risks in whichever course we follow: we must weigh up the risks against the possibility of obtaining an advantage. In this case, the risks are much greater than any advantage that we could obtain. The countries around Yugoslavia have agreed that they will not become involved in this civil war. If they want further protection, it is up to us to arrange to help them with it. That is different from taking part in a civil war.

Let us consider history. Anthony Eden rightly kept us out of the Spanish civil war, which was in my time. if was against Franco: I was on the other side. I went to Spain during the civil war. It was absolutely right to keep British forces out of that civil war. If we had gone into it, it would have precipitated the second world war before we were prepared for it. That is a fact.

Harold Macmillan kept us out of Vietnam, despite all the pressure from American Presidents, and from the Australians and New Zealanders. He was absolutely right. Recently, Henry Kissinger said that it was easy to get into Vietnam but damned difficult to get out. That applies just as much to the situation in Bosnia.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, week after week and month after month, the United States air force and navy pounded away at the Ho Chi Minh trail, dropping tonnes of ordnance but in no way stopping the supply of armaments to the Vietcong and in no way preventing the Americans from being defeated in the war?

Sir Edward Heath

My hon. Friend is absolutely right—I had not quite got to that point.

Another example is what happened in the Lebanon. When the American forces were blown up, President Reagan immediately withdrew everything and nothing else has ever been done about the Lebanon.

What I find slightly unrealistic about much of the discussion relates to the United Nations. What is the United Nations? It is the five members of the Security Council. The right hon. Member for Copeland is surprised that other countries do not carry out actions to support the resolutions. Those countries do not take action because they take no part in the Security Council and are not interested, or they find that their own interests are affected to their disadvantage. There is no need to be surprised at that. The right hon. Gentleman said that the resolutions must be enforced, but how do we enforce them? How do we force other countries not to do deals under the counter? It is a practical matter which must be dealt with by the United Nations.

The United Nations always acts after the event. It has no means of pre-empting the dangers that the world faces today. It has no intelligence service of any sort and it does not know what is going to happen. It has no information service, no means of assessing risks in actions that can be taken and no military staff to advise the Secretary General. It has absolutely nothing. If it is to perform any worthwhile service in this new world, it must have all those things and be properly organised; otherwise, it is just a matter of a discussion in the Security Council and the pressure exerted by its individual members.

Mr. Cormack

I am sad to disagree with some of the things that my right hon. Friend is saying. He was rather against the United Nations having any involvement in the Gulf. As he tried to be influential against it, does he regret his position in speaking against that? Does he now see that an independently recognised sovereign state has been invaded and dismembered and its people butchered before our eyes?

Sir Edward Heath

I said that we should have pre-empted the Gulf war and recognised what was going on, which we did not. We still have not had an honest admission from Washington of what the American ambassador said to Saddam Hussein about the lack of any interest in Kuwait—and he should get on with it. It is a complicated situation, which I will not go into now. Once we got to the point of the war, I did not oppose it. However, if it had been handled effectively by Secretary of State Baker, as my remarks on television have recorded, the whole situation could have been entirely different. To come to the final point, Saddam Hussein and his regime are still there.

This has a lesson for us. We hear about war crimes. If people taking part in ghastly orgies are told that there will be a war crimes tribunal, they will say, "If I have had it, I might just as well go ahead." So that is what they do. That is the psychological impact of saying that war criminals will be tried. We are unrealistic in suggesting that war crimes trials are part of the answer. They are not.

It is all very well to talk about sanctions. It grieved me when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said the other day that sanctions were a long-term business and that they would continue until the previous situation was restored. That is also entirely unrealistic. We shall never return to the previous situation in the former Yugoslavia. Therefore, we are committing ourselves to something which is impossible and from which later we shall have to withdraw. That is another aspect of the unrealism that is prevalent.

We have just heard again from the right hon. Member for Copeland about the peace plan. It is hopelessly irrelevant. It is out of date. It bears no relationship to the present circumstances in the former Yugoslavia. It is useless to continue saying that we have a peace plan and that we must put it into action. That gets us nowhere. There may still be negotiators for the peace plan.

Lady Olga Maitland

Surely the peace plan has validity in that it is a means of bringing people to a peace agreement. No one has ever said and no one says now—not even Lord Owen or Cyrus Vance—that the peace plan proposals would be the final version. The great thing is to get people to agree in principle. Surely it is worth it.

Sir Edward Heath

The peace plan is now so irrelevant that it is not fulfilling the purpose that my hon. Friend wants. If we tell the Serbs in Bosnia that they must give up what they have now, which is more than 70 per cent. of the territory, and return to 43 per cent., they will not say, "Thank you very much. We will now sit round and have a happy party about it." The peace plan is entirely irrelevant.

It is also important that Lord Owen should retire and that there should be a fresh negotiator.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I hope that that is not an invitation.

Sir Edward Heath

He goes to the other place. I am sorry if that disturbs my hon. Friend. Before Lord Owen was appointed, he made it clear that he believed that military force was the only way of settling the crisis in Yugoslavia. When he took over he said that he wanted a peaceful agreement. On television last week he said that the only answer was force. It is not possible to conduct peace negotiations if one publicly announces that the answer must be force. One cannot be surprised if those whom one wants to take part in the peace negotiations say, "Thank you very much, but there is nothing doing."

We must have peace negotiators who are prepared to recognise the reality of life and negotiate. We must have negotiators whom all the parties who take part in the negotiations, however controversial and nasty, are prepared to accept as people who are trying to do a proper job of settling the problem. Lord Owen is no longer capable of doing it. The best thing that the Community can do is ask him politely to retire.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I agree with much of what my right hon. Friend is saying. However, he says that one must recognise the reality on the ground. Does that not encourage the Serbs and their allies to conquer more territory?

Sir Edward Heath

No one is going to stop them. That is where people are so unrealistic. The conflict is a civil war stemming from Yugoslav history going back centuries. It is seeking to wipe out all the changes and hatreds of all those years. Unless we recognise that as the basis of the conflict, we shall not reach any peaceful solution. One must realise that.

Ms Hoey

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Edward Heath

No, I am sorry.

We then come to the European Community. The problem about the Community is that, again, it has no machinery to find out what will happen. I am sorry that my right hon. Friends who are now in power are opposed to the Community having the machinery to deal with foreign policy and defence. It is absolutely essential. Otherwise, there can be no Community action. We hear criticism not from sceptics, who approve of the European Community's stance, but from other people. They ask why the Community has not stepped in to deal with the conflict. It did not foresee it and it has no means of evaluating a policy on it or achieving any results.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

It is divided.

Sir Edward Heath

One has no means of knowing that it is divided, because it has not got together on the issue.

The Community requires the proper machinery to deal with problems such as the crisis in Yugoslavia. People ask what can be done. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when he stands against the "something must be done" syndrome. That syndrome is affecting much of the behaviour in the House.

We see ghastly scenes on television and of course we are horrified. So are people outside. But the people of Britain do not want us to go to war. They do not want to see planes bringing back dead bodies as they see dead bodies on television in Yugoslavia. Of course people are opposed to that. I believe that the great majority in the House are also opposed to it.

Mr. Frank Field

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Ms Hoey

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Edward Heath

No, I will not give way.

We are told that we have the closest contact with our allies in Washington. The new President has no experience of international affairs. He has no military knowledge. His Cabinet is hopelessly divided on all these problems and incapable of reaching a decision about Yugoslavia or any other international matter. So why should we risk being pushed into military action by the President of the United States? In his younger years, before he became so important, he criticised what the Americans were doing in Vietnam.

Mr. Mullin

There is no comparison with Vietnam.

Sir Edward Heath

Yes, there is. There is a comparison between policies of putting forces into a country in which they cannot achieve their end. That applies just as much to Yugoslavia as it did to Vietnam.

Mr. Mullin

Half a million American troops were sent 10,000 miles to prop up a rotten regime which had no moral base whatever. There is no comparison between Vietnam and Bosnia.

Sir Edward Heath

With great respect, I will not argue about the nature of the regime.

How many troops would be required in Yugoslavia—150,000? And where would the troops come from if we decided to use force? We could not provide them. We are already over-extended. So which other countries will provide the forces to deal with the conflict?

We must not allow ourselves to be pressured by Washington. One of the American chiefs of staff said that air attacks ran no risk. That statement shows profound and overwhelming ignorance. There would be enormous risks to our people there, who are carrying out their task magnificently.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if bomb attacks were agreed, the logical conclusion would be to put in combat troops to safeguard the lives of humanitarian aid workers? The deployment of ground forces would follow from that. So one cannot divorce one argument from the other.

Sir Edward Heath

Of course that is true. A substantial number of ground forces would be required. The minimum estimate is 150,000. One must be realistic about that.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

For how long would they be needed?

Sir Edward Heath

For year after year. I wish to say a few words about what we can do. We have given a great deal of humanitarian aid. The amount of food and medicine available now will last only a short time. To supply people with food to the end of the year will cost £590 million. Only £16 million of that has been committed internationally so far. If the "something must be done" brigade want to get something done, let them start working on that. Let them acquire the supplies of food and medicine. We can provide the people because they are there already. We can provide the air transport. That is a practical measure which would help the wretched people in Yugoslavia.

I ask the House to be clear. There is no future in our putting in military forces to join in the civil war in Yugoslavia. On the other hand, there is an immense amount that we can do to help them if we put our minds to it.

5.49 pm
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

The House will have listened to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) with interest. I am bound to say that he is, at least, consistent. The House will note that many of his comments and predictions are exactly the same as those that he made about the Gulf war. He was wrong then, and I fear that he is wrong now.

This is not an easy matter; it is a very difficult matter which requires careful judgment. None of us can be certain that any judgment that we make today will carry through in the heat of the events of a fast-changing situation. It is right that the House should debate it—many will find it remarkable that the House has not debated it before now except on a Supply day provided by my party.

The best that can be said about the tragedy in Bosnia is that it is a tragedy which arrived before Europe was ready to cope with it. The worst that can be said is that the consistent, year-long failure of judgment, leadership and action has led, as many of us predicted it would, inexorably to tragedy heaped on tragedy, to the humiliation of the United Nations and the weakening of its international standing, and to the humiliation of our own troops on the ground. It has led to the return of practices that we thought had been banished from the continent of Europe 50 years ago when the Nazis were defeated—except that the use of rape has now been added as an instrument of war—and to the ever-present and growing threat of a widening conflict with the incalculable consequences for the peace of the region and, in due course, the peace of Europe.

There was a failure of judgment from the start—that is without question—in the too-early recognition of Croatia, without ensuring that there were proper bulwarks in place for minority rights. There has also been a failure of judgment on our part because we began to see things in blacks and whites too early.

The Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who spoke for the Labour party, are absolutely right to say that nobody comes out of this with clean hands; there has been aggression on all sides—a powerful case can be made that the aggression in Bosnia-Herzegovina was started by the Muslims as much as by the Serbs—but there is no doubt whatsoever that the burden of aggression and the revolting overturning of the basic practices of human rights lies against the Serbs. And, whatever the history, it is with the current Serbian aggression that we must deal.

The failure to take action after the conflict started a year ago is greater than the failure of judgment which may have contributed to its beginning. We have acted throughout this crisis always too little and too late—always reacting to events, never shaping them; always allowing ourselves to be dragged in backwards, tiptoeing a step at a time into the mire of intervention in circumstances that we have never sought to control. Those are the circumstances we have currently arrived at, and the consequences of this failure are enormous.

A terrible price has been paid by the innocents on the ground for that failure. Every attempt at peace—from London through the Vance-Owen plan—has failed, because the Serbs, and now the Croats, have always understood that they had more to gain from aggression on the ground than from the negotiating table. The Prime Minister's own success at the London conference has, I regret to say, turned to dust, just as we warned him it would. Unless we were prepared to stop the aggression on the ground, there was no possibility that the Serbs—[HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] I shall come to that.

There was no possibility that the Serbs would seriously negotiate; they would not stick to anything they signed up to. No prediction is necessary because that is exactly what happened in Krajina of Croatia. Even if the Vance-Owen plan was to be put into practice—I share the view of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup on this and doubt that it will—the reality is that there is no prospect that the Serbs would then relinquish the territory that they had captured by blood around Srebenica, which is dedicated to the Muslims under the Vance-Owen plan, unless we are prepared to force them to do so.

We have but two options now open to us, because the other consequence of that failure is that all the best options have been lost to us. There is no risk-free option, there never has been. The risks of taking the actions that were open to us in August, September, October and November were less than the risks of the actions now open to us. There is no doubt whatsoever that further delay will mean greater risk of action, and that is the ineluctable conclusion to be reached as a result of what has happened.

It seems to me that there are only two options left; to act or to see the United Nations humiliated and forced to leave the area with its tail between its legs. David Owen has rightly said that this is a crucial moment because the Croats, having observed the Serbs indulging in aggression with impunity upon the territories held by the Muslim forces, now intend to join the feast and have started to do so.

If there is now a second front, as we see, opened up on this tragedy, the possibility of a situation which becomes totally unmanageable is much the greater. Unless we can stop it and stabilise the conflict now, we will have a situation where all the remaining power and authority of the United Nations will be incapable of making any major contribution.

In addition to that, the position of our own troops in Vitez will become increasingly precarious. We have to remember that every round of ammunition and ration pack for our troops must come across Croat territory. Their position will become increasingly hazardous if the Croatian/Muslim conflict is allowed to continue. The remaining Muslim state—a state recognised by the United Nations—will be annihilated, wiped out by aggression, and we will see a miserable and desperate end to this tragedy, which will undoubtedly result in the spread of this conflict to other areas.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ashdown

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I must make it clear that I have quite a lot to say and because I do not wish to detain the House too long and allow time for other hon. Members to speak, I shall take three interventions only. [Interruption.] If hon. Members want me to take more interventions I will, but they are cutting into their own time. [Interruption.] I sense the mood of the House and if hon. Members want me to take more interventions, I shall do so happily.

I want to knock on the head the idea that has been perpetrated by the Foreign Secretary—and behind which he has taken cover to excuse matters, as have the Government, the right hon. Member for Copeland, and the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup the former Prime Minister—that this is a civil war. This is not a civil war. If it is, what on earth are we doing raising sanctions against Serbia and Belgrade? If it is a civil war, why is it that the Foreign Secretary admitted that gun sites in Serbia proper were used in the bombardment of Srebrenica, a clear act of aggression across a recognised United Nations border? If it is a civil war, what on earth are units of the Croatian standing army doing in Bosnia-Herzegovina involved in the attacks on the Muslims? It is as logical to claim that this is a civil war as to claim that the events in Sudentenland in the 1930s was a civil war.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

The right hon. Gentleman is good at outlining the problems and like all of us he wishes the authority of the United Nations to be maintained, but its authority has been desperately challenged in Nagorny Karabakh, where it has actually done nothing, it has been desperately challenged in Burma, where 5,000 people have been killed, and it has been desperately challenged in Liberia, where some of the atrocities are worse than the ones we are talking about. What is so unique about this one conflict, one of about 25 in our modern world?

Mr. Ashdown

The hon. Gentleman asks a perfectly fair question. Unless we are prepared to take a stand—and this happens to be Europe's problem and we have the capacity to take a stand on this—unless we are prepared to lay down standards here which might be applied later—the problems he talks about will not be controlled but will be multiplied out of number on Europe's own borders. Europe had better understand that this is not just the Muslims' problem but ours. Unless we are prepared to cope with it ourselves, more problems will arrive to threaten our peace.

There is no question but that the problem is Europe's failure. I am bound to say to the Prime Minister, who is not in his seat at present, that I think that it is a particular failure of Britain. We had the duty of leadership through our presidency, in the key months of the campaign. It was the Prime Minister's inability to realise that one must be able to reinforce on the ground what one seeks to achieve at the negotiating table that led to the failure of the London plan and, regrettably, the probable failure of the Vance-Owen plan. Once again, Europe is failing to tackle its own problem on its own doorstep, which leaves us today once again in the humiliating position of having to wait to see what the Americans will do so that we can, once again, hang on to their coat tails.

I noted Baroness Thatcher's criticisms of Europe. I found them strange coming from her, as no one has done more than she has to prevent Europe from creating the institutions necessary to tackle the problem on a European level. Opponents of even the modest advances contained in the Maastricht Bill are not in a position to criticise Europe on this problem.

Mr. Frank Field

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the impact of the crisis as it explodes elsewhere in Europe. We have a self-interest in the matter. We are witnessing the collapse of the nation state and the rise of tribalism—and those tribes are armed. If the conflict extends in the way that I think the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting, millions of people will be driven from their homes and will try to gain entrance to this country and other European countries. We have already seen how Germany has been almost destabilised by the numbers of refugees that it is taking in.

If we cannot act from what some Conservative Members dismiss as higher motives, we can do so because of our legitimate self interest. Some people say that we act because we are horrified by what we see on our television screens—I do not think that that is a bad reason for wanting to take action—but we can also properly act in our self-interest. If we do not act, we may be engulfed, not directly by the fighting, but by the consequences of it as millions of people are pushed and moved around Europe.

Mr. Ashdown

The hon. Gentleman advances the argument more powerfully than I could, and I am grateful for his intervention. We do have a self-interest in the matter.

Those of us who propose stronger military action need to answer the question posed by many, including Mr. Alan Clark: why should action be in our interests? Why should we be involved? There are four reasons. The first reason is a moral one. We have a moral duty to help those who are suffering if it is in our practical power to do so, and I believe it is. Perhaps other hon. Members do not take that view, and some may believe that the moral argument is the weakest of all, but I do not think so. I believe that it is a powerful reason. I think that we can, and therefore should, help.

The second reason is an historical one. The continent of Europe should have learnt 60 years ago that appeasement does not satisfy the appetite of aggressors; it increases it. We Europeans, of all people, should have learnt that lesson.

The third reason is a regional one. If the situation gets out of control—as I greatly fear that it will if we do not act—there will be a regional conflict of incalculable proportions. It will destabilise, not just the regions of Europe, but Europe itself. Ultimately, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will become involved—Greece, Macedonia and Turkey. As the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said, it is a personal problem for Britain. Over the past 40 years, we should have learnt from the experience of NATO that Europe's security problem is Britain's security problem—the two are indistinguishable and inseparable.

The fourth reason is an international one. If we do not stand up for the United Nations, its authority, and the basic standards of human rights and international law, then the UN will not be available to us when we need to rely on it in months and years to come.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)


Mr. Ashdown

If the Secretary of State for Defence wants to intervene, perhaps he will answer the following question: if, after careful thought, it was considered right to risk lives in defence of the United Nations and international law in the Gulf, why is it wrong to do the same in Bosnia? Are we so cynical that our answer to that question is that the only difference between the two regions is oil? I hope not.

Mr. Rilkind

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way as the question that he asks me is very much in line with the question that I want to ask him. He is trying to persuade the House of the crucial importance for moral reasons, the peace of the world and the future of Europe of bringing the war in Bosnia to an end. Why is he prepared to call for what is by any definition only partial measures to bring that about? If he believes in the arguments that he is advancing, why is he not using his authority to call, if necessary, for the total deployment of massive ground forces, including British forces, in Bosnia? If he believes in his own rhetoric, why does he seek to draw back from that position?

Mr. Ashdown

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks a perfectly fair question, which I intend to answer later in my speech. If he wishes to intervene again because he believes that I have not answered it fully, I shall happily give way again.

What can be done? That question relates directly to the Defence Secretary's question. Some people—including, I think, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath)—believe that nothing can be done. I do not agree. I believe that the longer one delays action, the greater the risk. For the past eight months, our plans have been bedevilled by the fact that we have been prepared to calculate to the last iota the cost of action, but we have never calculated the cost of inaction. But doing nothing carries the greatest risk of all, and could spread the conflict.

Whatever we do, our action must have a clear aim and deal with the facts—here, I agree with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I have given the Defence Secretary the chance to come back. I will answer the question. [HON. MEMBERS: "The right hon. Gentleman should answer the question."] I shall answer the question in my own way, in my own time, in my own speech.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup that one of the realities is—I wish it were not so —that the Vance-Owen peace plan is, for all practical purposes, dead. That has serious consequences, and if the plan could be resuscitated, I would be the first to cheer. However, that would be an act of resurrection equivalent to Lazarus being brought back to life.

What we do on the ground must always be co-ordinated with what we seek to achieve at the negotiating table. Until now, the deployment of our forces has not been in concert with what we have sought to achieve in the peace negotiations—there has been a dislocation between the two. [HON. MEMBERS: "What do we do?"] Hon. Members should allow me to make my speech in my own way.

I believe that the Government are right. The Defence Secretary is also right to say that there is no purely military solution. That is how I answer the Defence Secretary's question. I have never claimed that there was a purely military solution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me why I did not recommend using vast numbers of groups to achieve a purely military solution. My answer is that such a thing is impossible, and for the past seven or eight months I have made it clear that I have never believed it to be possible. The job of the military is to create the conditions in which peace has a chance.

My criticism of the Government and of those Conservative Members who are now heckling me is that we have never created that position. On every occasion our lack of capacity to take action on the ground has murdered any chance of peace because the Serbs and Croats could gain more from aggression.

Mrs. Currie


Mr. Ashdown

If the hon. Lady will allow me to make a little progress, I will happily give way to her later.

There can be no military solution, but there can be no political solution either for as long as the Serbs and Croats believe that they will gain more by aggression than they will at the negotiating table. That must be properly understood.

What are the options? The Government tell us that the sanctions are the option. They tell us that sanctions are part of a package which includes the enforcement of the no-fly zone, for which I called seven months ago. Then, I was told that it was impossible; now it is being done. In any event, we are told that sanctions will solve the problem. Yet this is the same Government who told us before the Gulf war that sanctions would not solve the problem. I should like to know why they thought that sanctions would not stop Saddam Hussein but will work to stop Serb aggression. Today the Foreign Secretary almost admitted that sanctions would not work, yet they are as far as the Government are prepared to go.

Mrs. Currie

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He will know that, as with the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), constituents of mine are in the military in Bosnia. Given the figures that the Secretary of State gave us earlier, not only for deployment in Bosnia but for deployment in neighbouring areas, would the right hon. Gentleman agree that there are now the best part of 10,000 United Nations troops deployed there on various missions? If they cannot do what he thinks they ought to be doing, just how many does he think there ought to be?

Mr. Ashdown

The hon. Lady is wrong: there are 16,000 in all. She will have to wait until I offer my solution to what can be done. I will then tell her about the calculation given to me by soldiers on the ground.

There are two kinds of intervention. We might call the first offensive intervention and the second preventive intervention. The first is based on the idea that we can somehow deploy 250,000 troops to roll back the Serbs and recapture the territory. I do not believe that possible, for the reasons that I have already given. There would not be enough of them, even in those numbers, to do the job.

The second form of offensive intervention is that we should lift the arms embargo as recommended by the Bosnian Foreign Secretary. I agree with the Government and the Labour Opposition about this. This is the single action best calculated to ensure the widening of the war. It is also an impractical option, because if we lifted the arms embargo, to get the arms to the Bosnian Muslims, they would have to pass across Serb territory—self-evidently the Serbs would not allow that—or Croat territory, and as the latter are also engaged in the conflict, they would not allow it either.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)


Mr. Ashdown

I have taken enough interventions.

Secondly, the arms could not be delivered to the Muslims until a considerable period had elapsed, and that would provoke increased aggression on the part of the Serbs and, perhaps, the Croats too.

Thirdly and crucially, if we are to lift the arms embargo on the Muslims, we will inevitably have to tolerate its being lifted from the Serbs too—and the Russians are only too ready to supply the Serbs with all that surplus, highly sophisticated equipment, including possibly nuclear weapons. God forbid that those weapons should get on to the battlefield.

Then there is the Labour party's suggestion that we should bomb the supply lines. If the Opposition seriously believe that that will stop the aggression, I must tell them that they are wrong. I have travelled in the area, for a week last September. I can tell Labour Members that the Serb part of Bosnia is stuffed with weapons. It was Tito's arms manufacturing area, separated both from the eastern and the western borders and thus best able to resist invasion.

The Serbs are past masters at throwing up new roads through forests. I saw them do it overnight when a road was cut by a Muslim ambush.

The bridges that would have to be blown are situated in the middle of densely populated towns. Even using smart bombs with a 40 per cent. accuracy rate, this would end up with the United Nations killing innocent Serb civilians. Nothing could be better calculated to strengthen support for the Serb leaders or to widen the conflict.

I can see a case for air intervention attacks against purely military targets, with the aim of showing clearly that we are earnest in our intent; but I do not believe that we will hit many of them. They will have been long since dispersed into the forests. But if we want to do this as an earnest of our intent, so be it. We should not expect it to have any effect on the ground.

The truth is—it is a hard truth—that if we want to do anything effective, we cannot do it without troops on the ground. If we are not prepared to countenance that—and it seems that the Labour party is not—we should not be in Bosnia at all. I can see no other way of achieving what we need to achieve except by putting troops on the ground ready to play their role.

When I spoke to the troops north of Vitez in December, they all said that they knew that the job they were doing was important and that they are prepared to take risks to do it, but they want to do it properly, and hitherto they have not been able to do so.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)


Mr. Ashdown

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make some progress—and the Secretary of State is already waiting to intervene if I do not answer his question effectively.

But I believe that we can go in for protective intervention. I believe that we can establish the safe havens for which many of us have been calling for so long. I believe that it is possible for the United Nations to take under its protection the remaining Muslim enclaves in Bosnia-Herzegovina. That is possible, and it is already being done, de facto.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

How long?

Mr. Ashdown

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I will come to that.

Furthermore, it can be done without any change in the current mandate on terms of engagement. Indeed, this is precisely what the senior UN commander recommended three weeks before Srebrenica fell. He was prevented from taking that action by the politicians. It is also what the Canadians—only 150 of them; not vast numbers—in Srebrenica are doing today under the current mandate. It is precisely what the UN commander in Bihac recommended be done the day before yesterday. Indeed, he promised that it would be done under the present mandate.

The fact is that the soldiers on the ground are rewriting and reinterpreting the mandate, because they are fed up with waiting for the politicians to give them the backing they need. The Secretary of State says that military commanders have advised against what I propose. I tell him that there are times when politicians, who have to take account of wider considerations, have to disagree with military commanders. We had to do that in the Falklands; if we had not done it, we would not have undertaken that operation. But if, as the right hon. Gentleman claims, military commanders here disagree, why are the military commanders on the ground putting this into practice right now? Why was General Morillon prepared to recommend it? Why are the Canadians putting it into effect, supported, we understand, by the Government?

There are those who argue that this will mean the end of humanitarian aid, but it has already ended. Tuzla has had no effective aid for a month. If this is such a catastrophic course of action in terms of the delivery of humantarian aid, why has the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recommended just such action in a letter last week to the Secretary-General of the United Nations?

I will now answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), because it needs an answer. How many would be involved? I can only tell her the answer that I was given by the commanders on the ground in December. I said, "If I asked you to protect the remaining Muslim enclaves in Bosnia-Herzegovina, how many troops would you require?" Their rough calculation was about double the number that are there now—30,000-plus. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady can sit there comfortably on her Bench, but that is the view of the commanders on the ground.

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman is seeking to present to the House a dramatic initiative to reverse the whole course of aggression in Bosnia in his proposals to protect the remaining Muslim enclaves. Why does he restrict his proposals to enclaves? In practice, is he suggesting that we should deploy whatever ground forces are required, without a ceasefire, to guarantee all remaining Muslim-held territory? Is he prepared to do that without a ceasefire and if the troops in Bosnia do not have the weapons to defend themselves if they face a combat situation?

The right hon. Gentleman is aware that there are more than 80,000 heavily armed Bosnian Serb troops in Bosnia. He is trying to suggest that we should expose British and other UN forces on the ground, and without a ceasefire, to a possible onslaught from those 80,000 men. How long should those troops stay there, and when would he draw a line in respect of that kind of operation?

Mr. Ashdown

The Secretary of State clearly, and presumably selectively, has not been listening to my speech —[Interruption.] I will answer the Secretary of State, if I may, without being shouted down by Conservative Members. What I have described is precisely what is happening now. Has the Secretary of State not yet fastened on to the fact that the senior UN commander on the spot, three weeks before Srebrenica fell, said that he was prepared to protect Srebrenica but he was prevented from doing so? He believed that it was possible to do so with his present forces.

Mr. Marlow

What happens if they are attacked?

Mr. Ashdown

The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) wants to know what will happen if they are attacked. The answer is precisely what the Government have agreed to do to protect the Canadian forces in Srebrenica. We are not there, in these circumstances, to assault or kill the Serbs or to conduct an offensive operation. We are there to set up United Nations-protected enclaves. However, if they attack us, they will feel the full force of the response available to us, and that includes a response from the air. If that is the case, how can 150 Canadian troops, presumably with the commander's agreement, be placed in precisely the position I am recommending in Srebrenica today, with the support which the Government are now providing, of air power?

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman has been very kind in giving way. However, he must appreciate that the 150 Canadian troops, brave though they are in Srebrenica, are not in a position to defend Srebrenica from a determined Serbian onslaught comprising thousands of Serbian troops. At the moment, they are doing a very important job, but we must acknowledge the reality that that is because the Serbs have so far chosen not to use their weapons against them. What does the right hon. Gentleman suggest they should do if that position were to change?

Mr. Ashdown

are becoming weaker and weaker. The troops are there, there has been no attack and presumably the Government agreed to that disposition, because they have said that they will support it from the air.

If, as the Secretary of State claims, the action that I have described is impossible, why did the senior United Nations commander on the spot—General Morillon—recommend such action? Why did the UNPROFOR commander in the Bihac area, the day before yesterday, say that that is what he is now doing? Why are the 150 troops in Srebrenica following that policy at this very moment when we are prepared to support that action by the use of air power?

What the Secretary of State has said in the past is absolutley right. It is true that if we are to use air power alone in offensive operations, we will have to have massive numbers of troops-to back up that action. However, that is not true in defensive operations. That is the crucial difference between what we recommend in this case and what has been happening in the Gulf.

Mr. Shore

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way now?

Mr. Ashdown

I promised to give way to the right hon. Gentleman, and so I will. However, it will be the last time that I give way.

Mr. Shore

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman; I am very interested in his argument. One should not approach this debate in a negative spirit. We want to find a solution. However, there is a difficult point. The 150 Canadian troops are where they are now by agreement and permission of the Serb commanders. They would not have been able to get to that enclave or to the other enclaves without, as Morillon discovered to his intense fury, negotiating an agreement first. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that his plan depends on negotiating agreements to allow UN forces into the different enclaves?

Mr. Ashdown

As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, there are only two enclaves left. We already have ready access to all other areas. Unhappily, there are only two enclaves left—we could say that there were three if we included Sarajevo—but the two major enclaves are Zepa and Gorazde.

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) may be aware that the UN has agreed to establish protective zones in those two areas without agreement from the Serbs. The UN simply declared them protected zones. It is fair to ask how we would get the protective forces through to those areas. It would be up to the UN commander on the ground to decide whether he could force passage. Let me make it clear that I believe that it would be extremely unlikely that that would ever be possible except in the most stable of circumstances.

I remind the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney—[Interruption]—and those Conservative Members still baying from the Government Benches, that the Muslim forces already in those towns are almost capable of holding the Serbs at bay. If we were to declare them defendable protected areas, it would be perfectly open to the UN to declare a land no-go zone around them and to use air power to assist the Muslim defenders to ensure that they did not face the kind of attack from heavy artillery and tanks that they currently face.

Mr. Robathan

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ashdown

The hon. Gentleman must forgive me; I will not give way, and I apologise to him.

It is perfectly possible for the UN to make that kind of declaration and to use air power to support the Muslim defenders to put it into practice.

I have criticised the Secretary of State for Defence for not having a clear aim. Let me tell him what I believe the clear aim of such a military operation would be. It would be to make it clear to the Serbs and Croats that they could not gain more from aggression on the ground and therefore the conditions in which a meaningful peace could be created.

I will now respond to a sedentary intervention, about the long-term solution, from the Conservative Benches. The Americans are right. If we go into something, we must have an idea about how to get out. Let me tell the House what I believe could happen. If we were to protect the remaining Muslim enclaves, and if we were therefore to create the conditions in which a genuine peace could be operated, it would be open to the UN to declare the remaining Muslim enclaves a UN protectorate. In that respect, I assume that the Vance-Owen plan has failed.

If the Vance-Owen plan fails, we cannot commit any British troops, or troops of any other nation, to preserve the illusion that Bosnia-Herzegovina can be recreated. In those circumstances, Muslim enclaves could be declared a UN protectorate and the UN, on behalf of the Muslims, could negotiate with all the authority of the international community behind it, with the Serbs and Croats to establish safe, just and secure borders. After that, it would be for the UN to support that state until, in due course, it would achieve self-determination and the capacity for self defence.

This is a very important debate. When the Secretary of State for Defence sums up, will he tell us why, if he believes that this course of action is so impossible, it is the course of action currently being carried out by UN commanders on the ground? If it is the view of the commanders on the ground that it is possible, why are they not now receiving the backing of politicians here?

I finish by returning to a point raised earlier. Europe is most at threat when empires collapse: so it was at the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and so it is at the end of the Soviet empire. We do not have to look very far to see that the Yugoslav crisis is not so much a revisiting in Europe of Europe's dreadful past as a precursor for Europe of what might happen in Europe's increasingly chaotic future.

We do not have to look very far—not even as far as Hungary—to see the conditions for ethnic cleansing which are already in place. We need look only so far as Czechoslovakia to see nations being divided up and borders being rewritten. We need look only so far as the old Soviet Union to see rising warlordism with warlords armed to the teeth with the most modern and sophisticated weapons.

If western Europe, as the only bloc and foundation of stability on our continent, is not prepared to project its power to secure peace around its borders, this decade will be a very painful, very troublesome and extremely difficult one. I believe that this crisis is now in the eleventh hour. It is not too late to act, but it soon will be.

6.28 pm
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

I agree with the last point in the speech by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). The debate takes place at a difficult time. Paradoxically, we may be close to success but we are also closer to failure. The debate is of high quality and hon. Members have expressed strong feelings. The House is united in its concern about the appalling and distressing situation facing people in the former Yugoslavia, but it is divided honestly and sincerely on the best way to tackle that problem.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil said that perhaps the problem came too soon for Europe. Hon. Members who take an interest in defence know that the most feared scenario of NATO was that precisely the situation that we now face would arise during the cold war, and that a conflict and a collapse of authority, ethnic tension and civil war would lead to the involvement of the great powers and a third world war. If there is a tiny crumb of comfort to be taken from this appalling situation it is that that has not happened. Only a courageous hon. Member would deny that the spreading of that conflagration throughout Kosovo, Macedonia and the Balkans could give rise to the risk that we thought we had put behind us.

We should all have a proper sense of humility, because we face an appallingly difficult situation. All hon. Members are equal in the House, but the Government have to take responsibility for agonisingly difficult choices. It is easy to be courageous on the Back Benches and to advance radical and bold thoughts, but it is not so easy to commit our friends and the sons of our constituents to a conflict which we will not face ourselves but which will place them at considerable risk. I had some brief experience of such choices.

Our first objective must be to stop the fighting, to get a genuine ceasefire and then to see some prospect of diplomacy and negotiations leading to finding a political solution. I shall try to outline how we can ensure that pressure grows to the extent that those who will suffer from it will be able to judge in their coldest and most calculating nationalist interest that resisting it will not be worth the diminishing benefits that will flow from continuing aggression.

The past week has revealed some evidence that the balance between growing pressure and diminishing returns is starting to be considered. Unfortunately, it coincides with a period when we are closer to failure. Today, the French decided to move some of their forces because of their current exposure to risk. Such risks can arise suddenly. At any time, a message could reach the House about a serious accident involving our troops. If that happened, the Government would have to decide whether the risk to our troops could be justified. If it could not, the vital humanitarian bridgehead that we have established could be lost.

As I have said, we must achieve our first objective of a genuine ceasefire so that we may sustain and develop the humanitarian effort on which it is asserted that 2 million people in the former Yugoslavia now depend. We have a massive responsibility to ensure that that effort is not impeded in any way. As all hon. Members who have spoken have said, that effort is a tribute to the amazing achievement of our forces and those of other countries. They have made possible not the feeding of 5,000 but the feeding and support of 2 million who might otherwise not have survived an appalling winter.

As we debate the wider issues, our forces are flying into Sarajevo with supplies, and ensuring the safe passage of the convoys at some risk to themselves. Today, a Spanish major put his life on the line, apparently to save 171 people who faced the risk of massacre. That is an example of what Colonel Stewart and his forces have to face. Anyone who listens to broadcasts will appreciate the undoubted strain and pressure that are being placed on our forces. We are asking a great deal of them.

There is an urgent need to re-establish the credibility of the United Nations. The right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said that the United Nations lacked credibility in other territories, but the key area in which it currently lacks credibility is with the Serbs. It is perceived that the United Nations does not seriously intend to obstruct the activities of the Serbs. The United Nations lacks credibility because it is not enforcing a resolution stating that the conduct of the Serbs should not continue.

We had hoped that one of the most fruitful outcomes of the Gulf war was the establishment of the credibility of the United Nations as a force that would resist aggression and could be enlisted to support free, sovereign nations. Such credibility could have been of enormous benefit but, tragically, it is being seriously undermined. We must get through to those who need to hear it the message that the world is no longer prepared to accept the flouting of the United Nations and its resolutions and that action will be taken against those who do so.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. King

I should like to be brief so I shall not give way.

We must make it clear that continued aggression will result in total disaster for them. Perhaps that message is now getting through to Mr. Milosevic. The Foreign Secretary spoke about Mr. Milosevic's letter and apparent pressure on the Bosnian Serbs. However, we do not have to take that on trust, although if it is right it is to be welcomed. The pressure must be maintained and reinforced so that next time it will be clearly understood where it matters.

Mr. Winnick


Mr. King

As' I have said, I am trying to be brief, so I shall not give way.

We must examine what is realistic and possible, and in that context I welcome the action by the Government in the United Nations to turn the sanctions regime into an effective blockade. The Gulf war illustrated the importance of sanctions as a key element in the early stages of a conflict. Sadly, it became clear that they would not be successful. But a substantial organisation was established and meticulous effort was put into the sanctions. Sanctions take much work and close attention and cannot be implemented merely by pious United Nations resolutions. They must be reinforced by organisations on the ground. I welcome what the Foreign Secretary said about that.

Much more effective measures must be taken on the Danube to support what is being done on the Adriatic and on the land frontiers. Although I appreciate the difficulties, we must insist that it is a total approach by all members of the United Nations. Those who are looking for the support of the UN in other areas—for example, the Russians, Bulgarians and Romanians, desperate for economic support from other countries—must give wholehearted support to UN resolutions on the sanctions side.

We must back it up with a military threat, and in that respect I depart from the view of practically every right hon. and hon. Member. There has been exhaustive examination of every option. Each has been thoroughly examined, criticised, ridiculed and finally discarded. We have announced to Belgrade that this or that will not work, so we will not do it. That has been profoundly unwise, so I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement today that no option has been ruled out.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) said in his speech and in an intervention to the Prime Minister that troops on the ground should be ruled out. I can presume to appreciate as much as anyone in the House the difficulties involved in putting troops on the ground in an offensive position. But why rule that out? Why tell Belgrade or the Bosnian Serbs in advance all the steps we will not take?

There are a number of options, and I can think of a few that have not so far been canvassed, some of which could be extremely unpleasant. We have the capacity to do some very nasty things to people who seek to obstruct the will of the UN. The key element is not to examine and then disclose such issues—for example, matters in connection with air strikes. Let us not flag up the options in advance.

I said in an earlier speech that I thought that the situation in Bosnia and Yugoslavia was an absolutely classic example of where one should not get involved. I give no secrets away when I say that I know exactly the military advice that the Secretary of State is getting. I strongly recommended Field Marshall Sir Richard Vincent for the post of Chief of the Defence Staff. I am proud that he is the first Briton for many years to be chairman of the military committee of NATO. We could not have a better man, regardless of nationality, in that post at this critical time.

I remind those who have suggested that there is great division among the different countries—in case some believe that soldiers may hold different views—that the press conference given by Sir Richard Vincent was not a personal or private conference. It was given in his capacity as chairman of the military committee, one of the key members of which is General Colin Powell, chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff. I have no doubt that the military advice coming through is setting out the real difficulties that are faced. It is right that such advice should be given because any senior serving officer in uniform must have a sense of responsibility, a feeling for his men, and be concerned about the situations in which he may commit them. I appreciate why those officers have been issuing the warnings that have been coming through.

But as the right hon. Member for Yeovil pointed out, although military considerations must be taken into account, decisions still have to be taken. My simple and clear message is that we must make it clear that military options exist and that we are not in the business of discussing and disclosing what they might be. I would issue the clear warning to those in positions of authority in Belgrade or elsewhere—to the leadership of the Bosnian Serbs and to anyone who might seek to continue aggression—that the anguish, horror and awfulness that is felt by us, here and throughout the world, has brought forward the prospect of some military contribution.

I say that recognising the disadvantages that might attach to such a prospect, but it would be a very foolish person indeed who, sitting in Belgrade or elsewhere, thought that the discussions we have had on the difficulties and problems meant that people did not face any risk of such a consequence. I want them to understand that they face a real military threat, coupled with the certainty of a massive threat of the blockade which would totally destroy their economy and cause huge disaster and unhappiness to their people. Let them know that they had better understand that quickly.

Such an approach must be adopted in a united way. I noted the conditions that Mr. Warren Christopher set out to a Senate sub-committee. One was that any step must be acceptable to United States public opinion. That is not good enough because it would be catastrophic if the United States acted on its own. Any actions must also be acceptable to UN public opinion.

There is no simple, obvious solution. We recognise that every option is extremely difficult. Even so, we must not dismiss any of them out of hand. We must maintain the most effective threat possible because I believe that there is now a chance to get messages through. The balance of advantage—of the continuing struggle and violence—is changing. If that threat can be developed at this time, it may prove to be the crucial contributor that might lead, helpfully and hopefully, to the ending of the present awful situation.

6.46 pm
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

I agreed with two points made by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). The first was that we must approach the subject with humility. There is disagreement on both sides of the House and in our respective parties on how the issue should be approached, and none of us should be arrogant enough to imagine that we have a magic solution to what everyone accepts is a complex problem.

If people listening to my contribution disagree with me, I hope that they will be generous enough to accept that it is offered in a spirit of sincerity and is made by someone with some experience of having been out and about in the world, but who does not suffer from the illusion that he is always right.

I also agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that it is foolish to rule out military action and to send the message to Belgrade that we have ruled it out. So I regret that any Serb listening to the contributions from the Government Front Bench today will have got the message that just about every form of effective action has been ruled out. That is a regrettable but unhappy truth, so we must face the problem more robustly than we might otherwise have done, had there been more spirit coming from the Foreign Office and the Department of Defence in recent months and today.

I make it clear at the outset that I am in favour of ground forces, under the United Nations banner, in such numbers as are necessary, for as long as is necessary. I agree with Field Marshal Sir Richard Vincent that a clear objective must be set, and it is only right that the military should receive clear instructions from the nation's political leaders.

In my view, the objective is not complicated. It is to create a safe haven based as far as practicable on the recent borders of Bosnia. I do not prentend to know the precise details. There are sufficient people, many of them in the military, more experienced than I in such matters. If I were the Secretary of State, I would listen carefully to what the military people are saying. As I say, they expect to receive positive political leadership. I regret that up to now they have not received it.

When I outlined my position succinctly to a gentleman from the BBC a few hours ago, he said, "You are an ultra." I replied "Hang on a minute. Actually, I am a moderate. Ultras feel able to sit by while innocent women and children are slaughtered on a huge scale, and I do not have the stomach for that. I am not tough enough to sit through that indefinitely." That is the ultra position. I respect the view of those who disagree with me, but the ultra position is to sit by and do little or nothing, and a worse position is to pretend to be doing something.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mullin

No, I will not.

People ask for how long, and I say, "For as long as is necessary." I shall accept the judgment of those who are qualified. It will probably not be for as long as we have kept—I see a smirk on the face of the Secretary of State for Defence. I hope that he will wipe it off. The Government's policies have not been so glorious that they can rule out all advice from whatever quarter. This has not been a very glorious episode, whatever course we should take. It will probably not be for as long a period as we have kept hundreds of thousands of troops in Germany—for the past 45 years—or for as long a period as a large number of troops, mainly American, were kept in Korea to protect that not very perfect regime. It will probably not be on that scale, but it will have to be for as long as necessary.

It has been said that there will be casualties, and there are always casualties of war. In my previous incarnation I was a journalist, and in that capacity I attended a number of wars, including those in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. I am not under any illusion about the nature of war. However, those casualties will be small compared with the tidal wave of human misery with which we are faced, and which will get a great deal worse. There has been some discussion of alternatives. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What about the Gulf war?"] We are debating the situation in Bosnia. If the hon. Gentleman wants a debate on the Gulf, we can have one. Angola has been mentioned. If we want a debate on that, we can have one. Somebody else mentioned Cambodia, and we can have a debate on that. I happen to know something about Cambodia. However, we are debating the situation in Bosnia and that is what I propose to stick to.

What are the alternatives? The one most practised so far has been hand wringing. By God, we have been faced with a great deal of that. It does not get us anywhere. A second course of action is hand wringing plus food and medicines. The food and medicines are running out, but the hand wringing is not. Tragically, that is not getting us anywhere either, because we are not being taken seriously. Whatever message the Serbs are getting, it is not the right one. Another course of action, which was arrived at very reluctantly, was the air exclusion zone. That is the most pathetic alternative that we have come up with. It is designed solely to placate western public opinion. By and large, the threat is not coming from the air.

Another suggestion was bombing. The Americans have always been very keen on bombing, mainly because they have never been bombed themselves, but bombing on its own, as other hon. Members have already said, will not do anything. It is another way, a tougher way, to add to the air exclusion zone and placate domestic public opinion. However, it will not achieve anything. It will not cut the supply lines. As the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) has said, the millions of tonnes of bombs dropped on the Ho Chi Minh trail did not interdict any supplies. I confidently predict that it will not make any difference to Yugoslavia if it is designed to cut supplies.

Bombing will threaten our troops over there in a way that they have not been threatened hitherto, and it will kill a lot of innocent civilians. I am not in favour of bombing. I can see that one has to give air cover for any ground troops that one might have to put in, but that is a different argument. Bombing by itself will get us nowhere; I hope that everyone involved in this tragic situation understands that and that every possible restraint is put on the President of the United States to persuade him to rule out unilateral bombing raids.

What is at stake is not just the fate and the misery of hundreds of thousands of people that we have witnessed so far. It is, as others have said, the credibility of the United Nations. The Serbs are laughing at the United Nations. Nothing that they have heard from those on the Government Front Bench or from other western capitals on the subject will stop them laughing. They will carry on until they are stopped. If they are allowed to carry on. that will give the green light to every little tinpot nationalist from here to Cambodia, and they will stop only when they realise that we are being serious, as the right hon. Member for Bridgewater said.

Unfortunately, so far we have not been particularly serious, so it will take some effort—only the introduction of ground troops will do—to convince the Serbs that we are serious. Only when we have done that will they stop.

6.55 pm
Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) knows, from his experience in government, all about enduring pressure to use military force. He spoke very much for me. I agree with, and strongly endorse, everything that he said. With the statutory 10-minutes rule coming up, I shall make my speech an addition to his.

I sympathise strongly with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who made a brave speech. It is not at all fair to allege, as the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) did, that my right hon. Friend is taking cover. My right hon. Friend advanced the dilemma with his usual integrity and honesty. I realise the enormous difficulties that he faces, especially as—there is nothing to be ashamed of in this—there are comings and goings in Washington. Washington has not yet made up its mind, and we do not know which way President Clinton will go.

It is a question not of waiting and then following the lead from Washington but of trying to get the allies—ideally, all members of the Security Council, including not just the five permanent members but the rotating members —on the same side, acting together, sounding decisive and presenting a credible threat to the war makers and those who have shown that they do not care tuppence for the remarks of the allies in the west, and believe that no one will stand in the way of their wish to pursue an agenda of endless slaughter of civilians.

This is not one of these wars where civilians get accidentally caught up. Killing of civilians, particularly the women and children, and the murdering of every village inhabitant is a deliberate aim of policy. Let us not confuse that with the accidental killing of civilians which, tragically, happens in every conflict.

I confess that I used to think that this was just another Balkan mess, that they have been at it for hundreds of years—we can all remember Balkan wars—and if we could somehow put a ring fence around all that, we could stand aside and walk away from it. The truth, which has gradually dawned on the policy makers and perhaps on all of us as well, is that we cannot possibly walk away. We have already been dragged in. We fell into a major diplomatic ambush and allowed premature recognition of Croatia and then of the independent state of Bosnia—probably the biggest diplomatic blunders since the second world war. Once we had done that, we had created new states, with all the resulting paraphernalia and obligations on the international community.

We could not walk away for that reason and we cannot walk away because genocide is not something over which we can wring our hands and tell our schoolchildren that it is not our matter, we are against killing people, but, in this case, it is all very difficult, and nothing can be done. Furthermore, we cannot walk away because we have already interevened, as a result of the decisive action through resolution 820, which ruled that heavy arms should be denied to one of the combatants. That is a direct intervention.

The Serbians, the Croatians and the Serbian Bosnians —the Serbians are supplying the latter—have unlimited access to arms. The idea that if we put more arms into the area, they will fall into the wrong hands, is absurd. They have already fallen into the wrong hands in vast quantities. Access is complete for any range of weapons falling short only, by some miracle, of tactical nuclear weapons, which I hope are under the tight control of the CIS forces. We must work to ensure that that hope is soundly based.

There are plenty of arms. As one of my hon. Friends said this afternoon, the place is awash with arms. Everyone has access to the killing weapons which they are using freely, although the Bosnian Muslims very much less so that the others. It is all the more remarkable that they are putting up such a staggeringly successful fight against Serbian-Bosnian forces who do not seem to be keen on engaging in hand-to-hand fighting and prefer to sit outside towns mortaring children's playgrounds.

Hon. Members say with great sincerity that we must not become more involved, but of course we are involved. We are already caught in a process which is dragging us forward into more difficulties and narrower choices. The idea that if we could stand aside everything would settle down and there would be some equilibrium, a stalemate of terror or a halt to the killings through exhaustion, is completely false, extremely dangerous and one which will encourage us not to take further action now and find that later we are far more committed.

There are many more British than other troops involved. Those who are now saying that we must not have our boys in there will find that, through circumstances not of our dictation, many more troops will have to get involved and we will pay a heavier price later than if, between ourselves and our allies, we can produce the will and the clarity of objective necessary to act.

The choice is not between involvement and noninvolvement, but between action now and far more involvement later. I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary understands that if we delay now and do not manage to get a grip on the deteriorating and sliding situation, everything will get much worse.

Hon. Members rightly ask about our existing commitment. It is not true that we are doing nothing at all. We have made a major humanitarian commitment and our troops are protecting the heroic humanitarian workers, some of whom are being killed, and that has undoubtedly helped to save lives. The same applies to other countries. Of course, our French neighbours have already paid a penalty in the loss of military life, as 12 French soldiers have already been slaughtered.

It has been said that all that will be at risk if we move in a new direction and develop a new policy to halt the bloodshed. I have to tell those who do not know it already —that sounds arrogant, as most hon. Members know that the humanitarian effort is increasingly under strain. All those who have been to the area know from talking to the operators of the humanitarian effort that it is becoming more difficult and supplies are not getting through. Supplies have been blocked through Gorazde, one of the target towns, and other places. The intensity of effort required to get supplies through, even on quite a modest scale, let alone on the full scale required to feed everybody, is getting harder to sustain.

The humanitarian effort has worked very well; the troops and the UNHCR drivers have done wonderfully through the winter months and many lives have been saved, but it is an illusion to imagine that, just because it has gone well, it is still going swimmingly and we must not do anything to upset it.

The humanitarian effort is now in great danger. Our troops and, as we have seen from the French experience, those of ether countries are in increasing danger because the policies and the patience have run out. The combatants, particularly the aggressors, and the Serbians who are supplying the equipment and the personnel to Serbian Bosnia have reckoned that they no longer need to be quite so careful or sensitive about who they shoot at and whether they should tolerate the humanitarian effort. They said yes to the Canadian troops in Srebrenica this week and I hope that they will continue to say yes, but it is a precarious situation and we may well be compelled or forced to go to the aid of the people there if the yes becomes more conditional and the bombs and shells start falling into the town again.

I sense from what my right hon. Friend said—perhaps some of us have realised this rather late, in my case only a few weeks ago—that the whole mood has changed. The policy phase of the past is over. In that phase, we were trying to establish the Vance-Owen plan—I do not think that maps were ever going to work, as they were far too complicated—in which it was believed that Mr. Milosevic and the Serbians meant what they said, were not supplying the Serbian Bosnians, genuinely wanted them to stop and were going to hold off from the systematic phases of bloodshed and knocking off the Muslim enclaves. We have to move to new ground. Of course, we are already doing so.

In my view, although we have canvassed every option this afternoon, there is no single solution. It will have to be a mixture of measures applied with great sensitivity. It will need as much support as we can get from the United Nations. I am glad that Mr. Yeltsin now feels that the Russians can come on side in a more effective way. Frankly, I think that they would have done so anyway two or three weeks ago, but they are now playing a much more positive role. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has rightly put his weight behind the proposal, which comes into force on Monday, not merely for the sanctions but for a serious blockade.

I hope and understand that it will be a real blockade. A blockade has to be imposed by force because people will break blockades. Ships will try to run it and will have to be stopped; lorries and trucks will try to break it and will have to be physically stopped; operations on the Danube will have to be interfered with to make a blockade work, quite apart from the financial aspect which, as my right hon. Friend said, is extremely important. Those measures, combined with the no-fly zone, which will probably also have to be intensified to the point at which there could be interdiction, represents a move into the area where real force is threatened and I strongly welcome it.

Now we come to the next steps to stop the process sliding away from us and dragging us into far greater commitment than we want. We have had authoritative views on whether we can cut supply lines. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Yeovil is right in believing that all the bridges are in the middle of towns and nothing can be done. Cutting supply lines from the air is difficult, but every litre of benzene that fuels the Bosnian-Serbian armoured troop carriers comes out of Serbia.

I cannot believe that some interdiction, whether by bombs, rockets or more subtle lateral thinking—the military are very good at that—could not make serious inroads into the entire fuel supply of the Serbian-Bosnian operation. I regard that as second best to the idea which is now being advanced on all sides—which I suspect is the one that President Clinton will propose next week—that we enlarge the safe areas into safe havens. In a sense, that is the limited objective which makes sense.

We cannot solve the war from outside; it is partly civil and partly invasion from next door and we can all argue endlessly where the solution point lies. However, we can deal with the immediate objective, which is stopping further bloodshed on a massive and hideous scale by the systematic elimination of towns and communities in the way we saw when the mortar bombs scattered the limbs of children in the schools at Srebrenica. We can move on those fronts.

We should take seriously the recommendations of the latest United Nations surveillance force to Bosnia and the recommendations of the President's own study group which went to Bosnia, all of whom said that it would be possible if one moved carefully, without putting in thousands of troops and getting the Serbians into a state of total aggression, to establish wider areas that were genuinely safe and protected where it was known that, if people started lobbing artillery shells, there would be retaliation.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Howell

I should love to give way, but I am right up against the 10-minute rule and I have only a minute left.

We must not merely keep that option open but sound as though we are addressing the matter seriously, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater rightly said. The threat must be credible otherwise there will be no movement and no halt to the bloodshed. If not, we will be forced back to the idea of the Bosnian Foreign Minister and everyone else that if we are not prepared to help people, we should not deny them the arms to help themselves. That is a very bad option, but if we are not

I realise that combining foreign policy with democracy is good but difficult because one has to explain to people what may happen in the future—not immediate interests, but what may happen if we do not take action now. In this case, it is clear to me that if we do not take action now, the actions that we shall take later, the bloodshed, the cost in our own troops and their lives, let alone to the moral authority of the post-cold war world, will be far greater than our worst fears at the moment.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. Madam Speaker has imposed a 10-minute restriction on speeches from now on. Hon. Members will be aware that the digital clocks are not working. Therefore, I ask them to look at the clocks at either end of the Chamber. I shall move in my seat 15 seconds before the 10 minutes is up.

7.10 pm
Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

I welcome the apparent conversion of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs to a more realistic appraisal of the problems of Bosnia. I hope that more of his colleagues follow his conversion.

There is a near-exact analogy for the inaction of the Front Bench of timorous Tories with the conduct of a not dissimilar bunch who sat there in the 1930s as the civil war in Spain erupted. They dithered and prevaricated, except of course those who supported the fascists in Spain. 'They refused even to supply arms to the Government of the day while Nazi Germany and fascist Italy armed Franco, and the second world war ensued because of such apppeasement.

As Yugoslavia broke up, it was clear what the proponents of greater Serbia were after, and it is still clear. It has no intention of abandoning its military campaign to create that greater Serbia. Its leaders, fanatics to a man—we have seen them in action on the screen—take no regard of United Nations instructions. But the resolution of the countries of the United Nations has been less than effective and the United Nations has found excuse for delay and further discussion—the phrase of leaders who do not know what to do.

Time has been wasted with the plodding pursuit of the Vance-Owen plan. What a farce that has been; an arrogant attempt to redraw the lands of Yugoslavia along ethnic frontiers, and that in a community that has been mixed for centuries. The map that was drawn up by that failed politician, now a distinguished world figure, David Owen, our old colleague, actually recognised the ethnic cleansing achieved by the Serb attacks. Just last week, the Croats and Muslims fought each other to ensure that they got their bits of the map as drawn up by those two stumbling savants.

The Vance-Owen plan is as dead as a dodo. As I warned many months ago, there was never any hope that the Bosnian Serbs would ever sign up to the delimitation of their own territory, or what they thought was their own territory, because they have not completed the operation yet.

There will be another bite at Gorazde and Zepa, and if the international community does nothing, as appears to be the case, and that is endorsed by this timorous Front Bench, it will all start again in Kosovo. Then we shall be into a Balkans war. It is extraordinary the limitation of understanding of the men who are professionaly advised on the issues. Do they listen to the professional advice, I often wonder?

Only effective military action will stop the advance and enlargement of the Bosnian Serbs. The palsied leaders of western Europe have to summon up their shriveled political will to mount military action, as must the new President, poor inexperienced clot, whom British Ministers have tried to emasculate, apparently with some success.

What should that action entail? I do not believe that any of the leaders in western Europe will agree to the early involvement of ground troops made up of their forces. They are too frightened of the effect that the body bags will have on their electoral chances in future years. But if the military were instructed to mount specific actions against certain objectives, of course it could be done. It is outrageous to suggest that that could not be achieved. Remember the skills and precision displayed in the Gulf war, a somewhat less justified intervention than would be intervention in Bosnia.

The aims of those operations would be destruction from the air of the bridges between Serbian and Muslim territories—they are all in towns, so both communities would suffer—of Serbian routes of supply and communication, which can certainly be interdicted, of their air force, which has cheated the United Nations resolution, and the taking out of their artillery emplacements. They might move them, but modern warfare has ways of finding to where they have been moved. Finally, and absolutely essential, is the destruction of the armament factories within old Yugoslavia. Unless we do that, we do not mean business.

Serbian aggression has to be stopped, and to achieve that we must go in and mean to win. Of course there will be civilian as well as military casualties, but civilian casualties are continuing all the time, compounded by cold-blooded murder, torture and rape as a policy objective.

The humanitarian operations will have to be withdrawn while the attacks on Serbian objectives continue. It would be foolish in the extreme to keep our and other forces in Bosnia as sitting targets for revenge operations, and the Serbians are not very nice fighters. The protection that those forces provide and the provisions they distribute would have to cease, hopefully only temporarily, while Serbia's military machine is crippled. On the achievement of that goal—it can certainly be done if the west means to do it—humanitarian operations must be resumed.

At that stage, with Serbian ambitions halted and their military effectiveness destroyed, the United Nations should introduce a protectorate, imposed by United Nations forces on the ground. They would run the communications, the utilities and the immediate provision of food and medical supplies.

Those forces would have to remain for some years. It would be a financially expensive operation to rebuild and initially administer a multi-ethnic democratic state. But only such resolute action would shorten the sufferings in Bosnia and prevent a protracted Balkan war. Perhaps, historically most significantly of all, only such action will avoid the alienation of millions of Muslims throughout the world which would give and will give enormous impetus to Islamic fundamentalism.

7.17 pm
Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

All of us approach this debate from the same starting point. All of us are angered and appalled by the terrible scenes of violence that we witness on our television screens every night. All of us are haunted by past horrors which come vividly to mind as a result of the suffering of the Bosnian people. I am no exception to that.

The leader of the Liberal party was right to refer to the events of the second world war. They have a powerful influence upon us. All of us in Europe thought that those events would never be repeated. Perhaps we were naive. We were wrong. Europe 1939 to 1945; Bosnia 1993—ethnic cleansing is back.

But the problem with history is that it sends out conflicting messages. Yes, it is true, my generation has always found it difficult to understand that the generation of the 1930s failed to recognise the threat that Hitler posed, certainly failed to do anything about it and certainly failed to protect some of those who went to their slaughter.

But equally, a later generation finds it difficult to understand how the greatest power on earth at the time and today—the United States—got sucked into the Vietnam war, which it could never win. First, it gave aid with arms, then sent instructors to demonstrate those arms, then used air power to support those arms and, finally and ultimately, it sent its own men and women to fight with those arms.

So when emotive words are used—I understand why they are, and perhaps it is right that they should be—by those who advocate further military action in Bosnia, words like "appeasement", words such as were used to me this morning by the Foreign Minister of Bosnia, "Munich" and "Chamberlain", I must remind the House—and perhaps the House as a whole should remind the United States of America—that words like "bombing Hanoi" and "My Lai" show that history is littered not only with examples of failure to act and the dire consequences that resulted but equally with examples of decisive action taken with disastrous results.

My point is simple: however haunted we are and however much we remember the past, we must not allow past failures of intervention or non-intervention or too little or too much intervention to dictate what we do today. The policy that this Government and the West must pursue must be pragmatic. It must be based on what we can realistically achieve.

In 1958, the United States invaded the Lebanon. It did nothing in 1956 about Hungary. We debate today whether we should do something about Bosnia. We have no intention, I imagine, of ever debating whether we should do something about Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan. So while it is true that foreign policy, rightly, has a moral dimension, it must be tempered with what is achievable and practicable.

I will be frank with the House: I have changed my mind on this issue, and I dare say that other right hon. and hon. Members may have taken a similar course, including perhaps even my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. We may have been able to do something months ago. Six months ago, perhaps we should have bombed the Serbian artillery. We had no British troops there, no major humanitarian effort at risk, and there was still a realistic state to defend. Six months ago, air power might have been effective, and I said so at the time. But the scene has changed and events have moved on. It is not enough now to say simply, though understandably, "Something must be done," unless that something has a realistic chance of achieving the objectives that we set ourselves.

Will the air strikes be enough to end the killing? I do not think they will. Will they necessitate the end of the humanitarian effort? Yes, I think they may. The humanitarian effort, for all the comments that have been made, is daily saving lives and we see it too on our television screens. Would all this lead to massive ground intervention—one or two Opposition Members have been frank enough to admit that it would lead to that—and is that feasible in political and military terms? No, I do not think it is, and, more important, neither do those who are advising this and other Western Governments. We must listen to that advice because they are responsible for the lives of our soldiers and of other soldiers who will go into the conflict.

Would arming the Muslims save Bosnia? Yes, it might, but what would be the consequence and where would those arms eventually end up? Those who a year ago were saying that we should arm the Croatians may well have seen those very arms used in the massacres which we saw only a day or two ago and which British troops are now clearing up. Are sanctions enough? I do not know because —here I agree with the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)—we have not applied those sanctions vigorously enough so far. Month after month, the killing has been going on and we have still not imposed, or perhaps we are just starting to impose, the sort of blockade to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) referred. It is essential that we have an effective blockade.

I am torn on this issue and I think that many other hon. Members are too. There are powerful emotions. There are no easy choices, but the difference between me and my right hon. Friends in government is that, if the decision they make is wrong, and if they respond to the "something must be done" argument for the best of motives and they get it wrong, with all the resultant disasters, it is they and not I or the leader of the Liberal party who must come to the Dispatch Box and answer for what they have done, not just to the House but to the people of the country, including people who may have paid the price for that error.

So I say, not with an easy heart, because it is not an easy decision—we all approach the matter with great sadness—that it is a balanced judgment as to what should be done now. Circumstances may change. Nothing should be fixed, but I believe that, on that balanced judgment, the Government have for the moment got it right.

7.25 pm
Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)

Other contributions tonight have dealt with the appalling situation in Bosnia, the awesome scale of the human tragedy there and the way in which we see it every night on our television screens, but I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not use the short time that I have to go over that again.

We should recognise that there are dreadful events happening in many other areas of the world. Some, like the situation in Armenia, have been very well reported in the past. Some, like the appalling events in the Sudan, have never been properly covered. We cannot, then, just base our decision on moral outrage, although that will be one of the factors in our decisions. Nor can we base it on where the television companies choose to send their cameras.

Ms Hoey

On that point, does my hon. Friend agree that we should all pay tribute to those very brave camera men and women, photographers and reporters, for without the work that they have done in very difficult circumstances none of us would be seeing the pictures or reading about what is going on?

Mr. Spellar

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. She reinforces my point about the acts of great courage of those who are not combatants in the events. Without them we would not know what was going on. In many other areas of the world we do not know what is going on, and there is not so much public concern because the events in other areas are not being reported. It is right that they should be reported and that we feel outraged about them, but that cannot be the only guide to action. We must take into account the international situation and Britain's capabilities. We must also consider Britain's interests in this.

I therefore wish to confine myself tonight to the very basic questions that we ought to address: what is to be done and, in particular, what is to be done by Britain? Our debate has focused on what is to be done about military intervention and, in particular, on what should be done about troops on the ground. That point was highlighted by the right hon. Member for Yeovil. I also ask what this country should be doing as a party to military intervention on the ground because, so far as I am aware, no one is suggesting that Britain should act unilaterally or in an isolated fashion.

What does that international agreement amount to? Mention has been made of the United Nations, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), although up to now in many cases they have not been particularly united, especially Russia. It might therefore seem unlikely that we would get agreement from Russia in the Security Council, where we would require unanimity in order to take such military action.

We have had a welcome indication of a shift in the attitude of a post-referendum Boris Yeltsin. There was some criticism of the western Governments as to whether they should have required greater conditions from Yeltsin in return for the granting of aid, but that criticism was perhaps a little unfair as we are seeing some change. Equally, we must ask why Yeltsin was so sensitive on the issue in the first place. What did he detect inside Russia regarding a strong, pro-Yugoslav, possibly pan-Slav attitude among the Russian people which made it a consideration, so that these decisions were delayed in deference to his desire to get past the referendum?

That attitude will still be there. It could still influence Russian foreign policy, and it could well influence Russia's decisions on the Security Council. We would not be able to rely on unanimity to secure a decision from the United Nations, and even if we secured such a decision, we should have to question whether the Russian army would be willing or able to participate.

If this were not a United Nations operation, would a UN-sanctioned NATO force be involved? Is it proposed, even, that if United Nations agreement could not be secured, a NATO force should act on its own account? The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) did not answer the real question: what decisions would have to be made, and how would they be implemented?

NATO would be taking a dramatic step if it moved from being part of a defence pact to being a world policeman, able to intervene throughout the globe. It would have to take a far greater step than any taken in the Gulf war, which involved a clear military objective, a clear international principle and a simple and straightforward issue. Favouring intervention in a civil war in Yugoslavia would represent a dramatic change in NATO's terms of reference, which would require serious consideration and a major debate before any action was taken.

Let us assume, however, that the objections were overcome. What if the Government decided tonight that we would intervene militarily? Would the invasion be over by May day or the Whitsun holiday? Not a bit of it: it would not even have begun.

At the time of the Gulf war, we all saw how long it took to build up military troops and to prepare an invasion force. We must remember the sheer logistics involved in preparing sea and air forces for action. Even if we were able to use Europe's road transport system, it would still take a good deal of time. What would happen in the meantime? Would there be a reduction in hostilities, or —as was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)—an escalation, while everyone in Yugoslavia tried to secure their section of territory before the potential invasion? I believe that the violence would increase, rather than diminish.

If we invaded, what would be our objective? It would not be so simple as the objective involved in the Korean war—to move beyond a certain parallel—or that involved in the Gulf war, which was to drive the Iraqi forces back from the Kuwait border. Presumably, our aim would be to bring about a ceasefire; but no meaningful line exists in Yugoslavia. In fact, we should need to establish not merely an invasion, but a permanent military presence. We should have to achieve not just a military victory, but a takeover of civil power. That would mean army patrols on every street corner, and would create an almost unending situation from which we would have enormous difficulty in emerging. It could drag on for many years.

There would then be no way out, unless we were prepared to commit massive forces and, possibly, to use methods on the ground that the House—indeed, all civilised opinion—would deem unacceptable for the maintenance of the basics of law and order. The situation in Bosnia has justified General Sherman's dictum that "war is hell". If we intervened, we would be deeply immersed in that hell.

How could we guarantee the continuation of peace after we had left? Moreover, how could we answer the all-important question, "Will the British public give us the support we need?"? Are the public now loudly demanding action? I have to say that the awful situation in Bosnia is not the subject of unending talk in the pubs and clubs of the black country, and I suspect that not many other members are under pressure from their constituents to suggest intervention in the region. Without such support, how could we bring matters to a successful conclusion?

We must say, bluntly and honestly, that we cannot be the world's policeman—or, in the words of John Bright during the Crimean war, "the knight errant of the human race". We should not bring injury and death into the homes of our soldiers. Ultimately, we must say that we cannot go out and get involved in such an appalling situation—that this is not our war.

7.34 pm
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) with respect, but also with profound sadness. I trust that the House and members of my Front Bench will forgive me if, like the Irishman, I say that I would not have started from here.

In the small hours of 12 December 1991—the first occasion on which Yugoslavia had been debated in the House since the beginning of the current troubles—I urged the Government to take some action. Dubrovnik and Vukovar were being shelled. I still believe that, if we had put aircraft and a naval patrol in the area then, there might have been no necessity for today's debate. Since then, I have tried hard to argue effectively that not only a moral dimension but a political responsibility is involved.

Just over half an hour ago, I left the Chamber briefly to sit in the Foreign Secretary's room with Haris Silajdzik, the Bosnian Foreign Minister. I shall not, of course, reveal what was said, but over the past few months I have had many conversations with Mr. Silajdzik: he is deeply impressive, and anyone who has met him—as have a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House—will know that he is a man of great quality and dignity.

Since I first met Mr. Silajdzik for the first time in December last year, another 50,000 of his countrymen have been killed: the figure now stands at around 200,000. Some 75,000 have been maimed—most are without legs, and many are children; at least 30,000 women have been raped. That is the catalogue of enormity and horror that we must contemplate today.

That, however, is not the only issue. In 1914, Europe was destabilised for 50 years or more following events in the Balkans. If what is now happening spreads, as it may do, to Kosovo and Macedonia, inevitably drawing in Bulgaria, Albania, Greece and Turkey—with two NATO countries fighting each other—and possibly spreading to Romania, it is not inconceivable that a conflagaration would result that would destabilise Europe for another 50 years. That is what we should consider when debating what should now be done.

I make no accusation about the good faith of the Government; I have never done so. Surely, however, no one can deny two facts. First, it cannot be denied that the largest share of blame for the horrors that we have witnessed lies with Serbia; secondly, it cannot be denied that our collective policy—it is not just a British policy —has been manifestly ineffective.

I consider the present situation the gravest that Europe has faced since the end of the second world war. Hon. Members sometimes point out that problems exist in Angola and Cambodia; of course problems exist all over the world, but the fact that we cannot act everywhere does not mean that we should act nowhere. If we know that there is a bad house fire in Manchester and that we cannot get there, we have no excuse for not helping our next-door neighbour if his house starts to burn down.

The Yugoslavian conflict is at the heart of Europe. Whatever happens there will affect our lives and those of our children. If the world order and the European powers are proved to be ineffective, the signal that will be sent out will be dire. In this post cold war era, which is in itself so unstable, it will lead to more situations such as that which we are debating now.

What do we do? It would have been easier to act earlier, but that does not mean that we can do nothing now. Last week I was talking to the Foreign Secretary with officers of the all-party parliamentary Bosnian group. The Foreign Secretary was kind enough to admit that there was some merit in the idea that I put to him: why cannot the Prime Minister and Presidents Mitterrand and Clinton, as leaders of the three permanent members of the Security Council, communicate to Milosevic the notion "Thus far and no further", that the international order will never accept what has been brutally gained and that aggrandisement as the result of invasion and destruction is not acceptable?

Those of us who met Mr. Salidjic today heard that of every four prisoners captured by the Muslims—they do take prisoners occasionally—at least two are Serbian and one is from Montenegro. The tanks are still moving in and the Bosnians have no tanks.

The Bosnians are not all Muslims—let us nail that lie now. Bosnia was a multi-ethnic country which lived in peace until relatively recently. It still has an internationally recognised multi-ethnic Government and a Parliament whose Speaker is a Serb. Several Ministers are Serbs and others are Croats. Rightly or wrongly, we recognised Bothnia as an independent sovereign state. We are talking about a state that has been invaded and continues to be invaded, weekly if not daily. Tanks roll in from Serbia, and the Bosnians have no tanks.

Personally, I am not greatly enamoured of the idea of breaking the arms embargo, although it was an embargo against Yugoslavia, which does not now exist. But what can one say to a Foreign Minister who says that he does not want our people to die? He says that we can take them away if we must although he welcomes their marvellous humanitarian aid but, for God's sake, if we cannot stop the war, can we let the Bosnians stop it themselves and die for their own country? That is an exceptionally difficult argument to refute morally, although I would prefer us to make a final attempt at bringing the conflict to an end.

I should like us to communicate to Milosevic the notion that Sarajevo is a United Nations protected city and that any further attack on it will be regarded as an attack on the United Nations. I should like us to deliver an ultimatum to Serbia to the effect that we shall take appropriate action. Why agonise over that in particular? That has been the problem all along.

We invalidated the doctrine of the deterrent from the start by saying that we would take no action. As armchair generals, we sit around and say, "Do this, that or the other." It is possible to say that we shall take the appropriate action, which can take a variety of forms. Sometimes, a specific air strike can have a dramatic effect, and I need only say the word "Libya" to prove that.

Something that Haris Salidjic said to me today convinced me that we must get the message to Serbia. As he said, in the second world war there were leaflet drops, so why not warn the Serbian population, which is the subject of constant black propaganda, of what the world thinks? That would help to reinforce much of the opposition there but, day after day, the people are fed the siege mentality black propaganda. There are things that can be done.

Hon. Members of all parties have said that the Vance-Owen plan is far from perfect. That is so, but the Muslims have signed it, or rather the multi-ethnic Bosnian Government have signed it, the Croats have signed it, and pressure can and should be put on the Serbs to sign it. It has been put to the Foreign Secretary many times—I put it to him again this afternoon—that, if a peace is brokered under international auspices, it will be internationally guaranteed. Just as he said yes on 13 January, he said yes again today. We must try to take action to bring the conflict to a close.

I see by your movements, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I must bring my speech to a close. I appeal to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who will reply for the Government, not to throw away all the aces but to keep Milosevic guessing and make him and Karadzic realise that we mean business. We should make it clear that we are not prepared to see a sovereign state extinguished from the map of Europe.

7.45 pm
Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

I am struck by the fact that we are constantly told by the apologists for inaction that we are witnessing a civil war. We should examine that proposition a little more closely. Bosnia is not a nation of long standing with a fair history and which is now disintegrating. It is a wholly artificial construct.

There was no Yugoslavia before the end of the first world war. There was no demand from the peoples of the area that it should be created. It was created by great imperial powers at the end of the first world war and imposed on the people without a plebiscite. The people of Slovenia and Croatia were not consulted about whether they would be part of the new Yugoslavia. Broadly speaking, where Bosnia now stands has been a major international dividing line for almost 2,000 years. When the Roman empire split, it was the border between the eastern and western empires. It became the border between Christianity and Islam. One could not hope to bridge the area and not expect problems.

I am also struck by the fact that the apologists for inaction say that the problem with the Croats is that they are all fascists and are on Hitler's side. It is interesting that we are told that history seems to have started in 1940, because in the 1920s and 1930s people—including Members of Parliament at the time—signed international letters condemning the Serbian oppression of the Croats in Yugoslavia. There were protests when the Serbian royal family, a member of whom was to become the king of Yugoslavia, began assassinating and eliminating the political leadership of the Croats. I condemn the Croats who lined up with Hitler as I condemn the resulting butchery. However, let us not forget: they have been subjected to two decades of oppression as a minority in Yugoslavia. We must remember that when we hear these sweeping condemnations.

I cannot find any political party in any part of former Yugoslavia that I would be happy to join—the parties would probably not be happy to have me. It is not easy for those of us who are used to having to look for someone with whom we can agree ideologically—the goodies, of whichever party. There is no obvious group with which we could line up, and virtually all sides have bloodstained hands from events of the past few decades and centuries.

I believe that one principle should guide us in this horrendous mess. There is an equally horrendous mess around the borders of the old Soviet Union and, indeed, in parts of Russia today and also in the completely artificial nations created in much of the third world, especially in Africa. That principle is self-determination. It is on this point that the Government and the Opposition have failed most abysmally.

When Yugoslavia started to disintegrate, Slovenia and Croatia held free and fair ballots for the people to decide whether they wished to remain part of Yugoslavia or become independent. They voted overwhelmingly and I am not surprised, because the people of Slovenia and Croatia saw what was happening. I suppose that the only tribute one can pay to Tito is that he kept a lid on the mess for the best part of two generations. However, at his death, the Serbian ruling class, the leadership and the elite, began to debate a Greater Serbia.

In 1987, the Serbian Academy of Sciences voted for a Greater Serbia. There were no protests internationally or in the House when Milosevic suppressed the Kosovo Parliament. Kosovo is 90 per cent. Albanian, and the Serbs went in. In Kosovo, there are virtually no Albanian doctors practising, no Albanian teachers teaching and no Albanian children in schools. Virtually all Albanians are out of work. There is massive and sustained pressure because of the long historic demand that the Serbs have for that area.

Where was the protest? Nothing was done. That lack of action drove the Croat people into the arms of the thoroughly unpleasant leadership that emerged. Virtually no hon. Members in the House could find anything good to say about that leadership. What happened? I remember the first debate in the House in which a junior Minister in the Foreign Office was sent here, after the votes of the Slovene and Croat peoples. He stood at the Dispatch Box and said that the British Government's view was for the status quo and that they did not want Yugoslavia to unwind. That is what happened, instead of the people in the area being asked what they wanted and the matter being looked at objectively.

The people had just voted for independence in a free ballot. We decided that it was inconvenient and the Government jumped up and said that they completely agreed. How inconvenient that people should vote for the same right to national self-determinations that we have taken for granted for 1,000 years. What right do we have to deny people that?

The main principle that will get us through a difficult decade as such problems unwind across the face of the planet is self-determination—what people demand at the ballot box. We would have the same problem if 51 per cent. of the people of Scotland voted for independence. Would we fight to keep them? It would be a mess. The principle of self-determination applies close to home in Europe as much as it applies in other parts of the world.

We must accept that Serbia has a clear idea of what it wants. That idea has been argued by its intellectuals, its academics and the political leaders of Greater Serbia. They have pursued it logically and clearly, in the same way as Hitler pursued his strategy to unite all the German people in one nation. The rest of the world, and especially Britain, has been totally reactive. We did not once anticipate what was coming.

I do not think that any one has any doubt that, unless Milosevic is stopped in his ambition to carve up more of Bosnia, and we let him get away with it, we will see a much greater conflagration in Kosovo and Macedonia. I do not say that it is a repeat of Hitler in the 1930s. Hitler led one of the most massive industrial powers and a vast nation. The conflagration in Kosovo and Macedonia will not be conflagration on that scale, but it is the same principle.

I have sat in the House sometimes and thought that it must have been the same mood—this is what it must have sounded like as, year after year, weasel-worded people got up at the Dispatch Box and said, "Czechoslovakia is a long way away. It is a small country of no significance to us. Hitler has legitimate aspirations but we do not understand him." Some hon. Members said that the policies of the Nazi regime towards the Jews were an internal matter and no concern of theirs. That must have been the same as hearing people now say that the rape of women as an active policy is an internal matter and cannot be a matter for the international community.

That was the reality when the world was divided on ideological lines—when people were in one camp or the other. Some order and discipline was maintained in the communist and capitalist camps. That world has gone and we face a more dangerous situation. In a sense, all the problems can unravel and unwind and we must decide how we will be guided through them. The principle of self-determination will help, but people in the world who have little power—those who are in a minority, trapped in other nations or supporters of a religious minority—have the right to expect that world opinion and pressure will be brought to bear when abhorrent regimes practise policies that include genocide. That is why I condemned China's actions in Tibet and Iraq's bombing of the Kurds. It is why I support minorities that are oppressed by the regime that they may be trapped inside.

Having moved out of the cold war world, we must create an international mechanism that moves to stop the abuse of human rights. That is why I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said. I am prepared to see as many ground troops as it takes for as long as it takes. If we do not stop Milosevic in Bosnia, we will have to fight a much worse conflict in Macedonia. If we do not act in Macedonia, there will be another conflict involving nuclear weapons somewhere on the fringe of the Soviet Union.

7.54 pm
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

It is a privilege to take part in what is for many of us an emotional and important debate. We are debating the spiral of violence in the Balkans that we see nightly on our television screens. The media like to put labels around one's neck. I am a minimalist. Unlike the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), I want minimum intervention. I am frightened that we have become more involved in the quagmire in the past six months. If we have another debate in six months' time, I fear that we will find that we are even deeper in the mire.

I will not be accused of being an appeaser or a user of weasel words. However, I beg hon. Members to be a little more cautious about committing British troops to combat for unlimited periods for confused and blurred objectives. Before I entered politics, I was an infantry soldier for 10 years—twice on active service. A driver was killed alongside me. It behoves all of us with such a background to remember that we are talking about human lives; we are talking about our constituents and our countrymen.

Let us put the Balkans in some sort of perspective. The world's major religions meet in the Balkans. There has been ethnic feuding in the region for 300 years. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made an authoritative and excellent speech this afternoon, but perhaps he was a little optimistic in thinking that some time in the next 30 years all the fighting in that part of the world will miraculously come to an end.

The United Nations is desperately overstretched. Countries have not been paying their dues—and the United States is a bad offender. There is an unwillingness, which I entirely understand, for sovereign Governments to commit their troops to fight other people's wars. When we hear the demand for troops on the ground to be dispatched, it is not made clear exactly who will supply those troops. It is impossible for that world body, the United Nations, to deal with the 25 conflicts and the 70 potential flashpoints in the world. In the past, it has not tried to deal with them. In Cambodia, 1.5 million people were killed in the civil war—one fifth of the population was destroyed. It was not expected that the United Nations should intervene and become a third party to the dispute in Uganda or Biafra.

In Angola, we all know that UNITA lost the election but is now back fighting its corner. Is there a call in the House to take action against UNITA? I do not think so. We are being lead by the media—we must be cautious about this—like little dogs on a lead. The pictures are incredibly emotional. Many people saw the young boy who had been blinded the other day when meeting his brother. I told my wife on the telephone what I had seen on television and she said that the family cried when they saw it. That has been a common experience throughout the country.

The media are fickle. We all know that, if British Tornado pilots were to kill men, women and children while trying to take out a strategic bridge in Serbia, those pictures would be flashed around the world and those reporters in the media who are saying, "You must do something," would be saying, "My God, what have you done? Bring them back."

As the Secretary of State well knows, I was cautious about the commitment of the Cheshires to Bosnia. In the past, humanitarian aid has been entirely a civilian matter organised by the United Nations. I am the first to pay tribute to the commanding officer of the Cheshires and to the sterling work that they have done. However, I still have reservations. If we switch on our radios at breakfast time tomorrow and hear that there has been some heavy shelling and 12 soldiers have been killed, will we all say how marvellous it was that that battalion was given that task? We have put them in a most invidious position.

I hope that the Secretary of State will explain why British soldiers have been used to bring out in body bags the bodies of those who have been massacred. I am told that it is because no one else was prepared to do it. It is insulting and humiliating for our officers to be held up at checkpoints by drunken bums with kalashnikovs. I query the role that the Cheshire battalion has been given. I wish that we did not intend to replace it. The winter is over. There is a tremendous job to be done in dispersing food. I do not deny that for a moment, but the end of the winter might have been the moment to bring that style of operation to a halt. By all means let us have medical personnel, engineers, communications experts and so on in Bosnia, but I am doubtful about keeping a British battalion there carrying out its present role.

We have been told that the way forward now is to allow the Muslims to have the arms they need. They are short of artillery and tanks. That is a crazy suggestion. It is nonsense to imagine that we would help to resolve the conflict by upping the scale of military hardware. Instead of rifles, there would be machine guns; there would be precision-guided missiles and more and more rockets; and more artillery would be introduced which would kill more people. That cannot be the solution.

There is a danger that the Serbs would get the surplus equipment sitting in Russia waiting for a home rather more quickly than the Muslims would get their equipment from their friends in the middle east. It could be that, within six weeks, the balance of power would be, if anything, more in favour of the Serbs than the Muslims.

I ask hon. Members to think carefully before they call for surgical strikes. Heaven knows, we know what happened in Vietnam, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said. Some of the American air force generals who talked about surgical strikes were responsible for the fiasco when the United States tried to get its hostages out of Tehran. Surgical strikes mean killing men, women and children. If strikes are to be effective, one needs observers on the ground. They entail involvement of people physically walking, using their radios to report back.

I appreciate that I am running out of time, Madam Deputy Speaker. My message is that we cannot bring about the good governance of every country in the United Nations. That is simply impossible. There is a danger that we would make matters worse. We can attempt to douse the flames. We should go in for humanitarian effort. But we cannot colonise the countries that are misbehaving or where human rights are a disgrace.

In the 1980s, the cry went up that something had to be done about the Lebanon. A bloody, bitter civil war was taking place and there was degradation and despair on all sides. We had no direct interests, but western countries felt that they should help. The multinational force was dispatched. What did it achieve? Some months later, more than 200 United States marines were killed. Shortly after that, the multinational force was withdrawn. No historian would say that it was anything other than a disaster.

I happened to be in Washington when that force was withdrawing. You may remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the United States used a world war two battleship, the USS Jersey, to shell the Chouf mountains. Each shell took out an area the size of a football pitch. We watched that on television in the United States. The image stuck in my mind. There was total misunderstanding in the United States of the local scene in Beirut, the local politics, the local ethnic communities and the intricacies of life in a city like Beirut. For heaven's sake let us learn from our previous mistakes and be cautious about greater involvement in the Balkans.

8.4 pm

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

I begin by congratulating the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) on his speech. It is remarkable in this place to find someone who is willing to admit that he has changed his mind. It is even rarer to find someone who is prepared to admit that he was wrong. He did that today in a most eloquent speech.

As the case for military intervention in Bosnia has gathered pace and won more support, a formidable chorus of voices has been raised against that case. We have heard echoes of those arguments in the debate today. We have been told that no British or western national interest is at risk in Bosnia so there is no reason why we should intervene militarily. We have been told that there are other bigger and better wars around the world so why should we become militarily involved in Bosnia. We have been told that there is no guarantee of success.

We have been told that massive numbers of ground forces would be required. We have been told that it will endanger the lives of UN forces and jeopardise humanitarian relief. We have been told that arming the Muslims would escalate the conflict and increase civilian death, injury and suffering. We have been told that air strikes against supply lines would endanger civilian life and cause Serbian retaliation. Of course, all that is true.

However, not only in the debate but previously, far less emphasis has been placed on the risks of doing nothing about what is happening in Bosnia. There is a formidable risk in inaction and failure to take effective military action. From day one, and certainly since British troops were first involved in the United Nations contingent, there has been uncertainty and confusion about not only Her Majesty's Government's political objectives but the whole exercise. The House has been denied a debate on this crucially important issue since last November. I believe that that is because the Government are embarrassed about public scrutiny of their policies, primarily because they have no coherent policy on Bosnia.

NATO military commanders had a perfect right this week to call for clear political direction. The job of the military is to arrange military power to achieve political objectives. There are many objectives at play in Bosnia. The overriding political objective is to stop genocide, stop territorial gain by military aggression, create safe havens, secure an effective ceasefire, encourage joint negotiations to secure future political settlement, secure adequate food, water and medical supplies, to release detainees, sustain displaced persons—let us not forget that there are between 2 million and 3 million in Bosnia now—and bring war criminals to book.

I cannot see how those objectives can be achieved without military intervention mobilised by and through NATO under the overall command of the United Nations. That inevitably calls for a major ground force. Like other hon. Members, I came to that conclusion reluctantly, but nevertheless I accept the consequences of that and I say clearly and unequivocally that those forces need to be deployed in numbers that military commanders judge to be necessary. They should remain there until, in the view of military commanders and their political leaders, their job is complete.

I do not know how many will be required, but we must have to recall, as various military experts have done recently, that the Germans occupied the whole of Yugoslavia with five divisions. We should also understand that, if the Vance-Owen agreement were to be implemented—and I agree with many who have spoken that that agreement is dead—that would require at least 100,000 military personnel and possibly many more.

All of the options we have had paraded not only in this debate but before, have implications for military ground forces. Ground forces, in my view, would be reinforced by air strikes against all those exercising aggression to secure territorial gain—I emphasise "all"—and against supply lines, airfields and other military targets. A total blockade is to be established and I believe that very severe action must be taken against those who are flouting the operation of sanctions—and we all know that they are numerous. Intense diplomatic effort must be made to isolate Serbia and to bring all parties to the negotiating table.

The main aggressor is undoubtedly Serbia. It has an enormous arms superiority and is responsible for many, if not most, of the atrocities which have been committed, including the systematic rape of women designed to humiliate and demoralise the Muslims. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said that 200,000 have been killed. That includes 14,000 children under the age of 14. They have been slaughtered—and the bulk of them were Muslim.

The conflict has been met by hand-wringing and dithering inaction. That will be seen by many, especially those in the Islamic world, as part of a world wide conspiracy against Islam. We should take this factor on board if, in the future, we are to come to terms with the surge of nationalism and the rivalry between minorities —including ethnic and religious minorities. If we are to come to terms with the surge for the right to self-determination, for the right of people to decide their own destinies, the United Nations and the European Community must recognise those realities. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) was right to say that the United Nations and the European Community are singularly ill-equipped to deal with those political realities.

The hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) told me that when he visited the United Nations, its control room monitoring the conflict shuts down at the weekend. Is this the way in which the architects of the new world order intend to approach such intensely complex and complicated issues? I fear it is not and that we, the political leaders of this country, should ensure that the international forum that we charge with this responsible task should be properly equipped and resourced to carry it out.

I attended a broadcast debate recently in which a representative of The Times and the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham, (Mr. Hogg) participated. Lord Bonham-Carter intervened to say that that was not the first time that The Times and a Hogg had sung the same tune. He recalled that the Minister's father ran a by-election campaign in the 1930s, under the memorable slogan, "Vote Hogg and save your bacon."

I venture to submit that the stench of appeasement hangs over the Government—and, indeed, over every EC Government. In my view, we do have an obligation to the people of Bosnia—Muslim, Croat and Serb—to defend their independent country from external aggression.

This debate is long overdue. I hope that the voices that have been raised today calling for military intervention will grow and continue to gather popular support. Unlike many other hon. Members who have spoken, I am getting a great deal of pressure from constituents—and they are certainly not all Muslims—for Britain to intervene militarily and effectively. People have said to me that they are ashamed to be British at this particular juncture. I can understand their point of view.

I hope very much that when the Government respond to the debate they will recognise that if we authorise air strikes, inevitably there will be retaliation and a vital need for ground forces. Let us, for God's sake, ensure that those ground forces are properly organised and equipped to do the job.

8.14 pm
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

Those of us who take part in this debate do so with mixed feelings of pride, anger, frustration and humility. We feel pride at the successes of our forces, and civilians too, in delivering humanitarian aid to Bosnia; anger at what is going on in that country—the bloodshed, the rape and the ethnic cleansing; frustration at our inability, so far, to stop the atrocities and humility because it is someone else's country that is being fought over by peoples whom we do not altogether understand, and because it is difficult, though not impossible, to define Britain's national interest. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) in fact defined it extremely well.

Before we look for an acceptable and workable plan for peace in Bosnia, it is as well to consider what caused those wars—I use the plural deliberately because too many people refer merely to a three-sided civil war. We should not forget that Bosnia, a sovereign state, has been invaded by Serbia.

Hostilities started because the cohesion of communism —the glue which held Yugoslavia together—was removed. Totalitarianism was suddenly replaced by tribalism. In potentially volatile, though heterogeneous communities, tolerance gave way to the fear of minority groups becoming second-class citizens, deprived of their rights, freedoms, property and even their limbs and their lives. Imagine the sudden awful realisation that their neighbour, with whom they and their forebears had co-existed for centuries, was their enemy and that their enemy's enemy was not their friend, but their enemy, too. That is what has happened in this ghastly triangular conflict and it has fanned the flames of war still further.

I do not believe that there was a sudden release of centuries of pent-up ethnic hatred when Yugoslavia fell apart, although I acknowledge that some settling of old scores has triggered repeated reprisals. The problems of former Yugoslavia were exacerbated by the western powers' rush to recognise the independence and sovereignty of former parts of that country without giving any copper-bottomed guarantees to minority groups.

It might have been possible to recognise Slovenia, but it was certainly not possible to recognise Croatia. The fact that no guarantees were given to the Serb minorities led directly to Serbia's invasion of that country. That was just one reason for the 1991 invasion: the other was Serbia's policy to create a greater Serbia and to drive through a northern corridor between Belgrade and the Adriatic.

Before we debate what should be done about Bosnia, we should consider the current situation in Croatia. UN Security Council resolution 743 and subsequent resolutions led to the establishment of UNPROFOR—the UN protection force. The most recent resolution, 815, extends the UN mandate until 30 June.

Croatia is a real test of the UN's ability to enforce such resolutions. At present 15,000 out of some 22,000 troops in former Yugoslavia are stationed in Croatia. They are drawn from 14 different countries. But Serbia is still in unlawful possession of vast areas of Croatia. Nothing has been done to persuade the Serbs to withdraw from those parts of the country that they have unlawfully occupied; the United Nations has failed to remove them.

Many observers feel that the United Nations' failure in Croatia encouraged the Serbs to continue their military aggression and invade Bosnia. The credibility of the United Nations is at stake. Other belligerants around the world—of which there are many—will be encouraged by the UN's failure to enforce its Security Council resolutions. Bosnia is already paying the price. Who will be next? There are 25 wars now being waged throughout the world. The UN is involved in 17 of them and they a re all civil wars.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Twenty-six with Northern Ireland.

Mr. Colvin

What should the United Nations do in former Yugoslavia? It may be best to acknowledge that we should leave Croatia to one side at present and deal first with Bosnia, where the position is more serious. One option is to do nothing. That would be a disaster. It would reward Serbian aggression and encourage the Serbs to take further aggressive action and to turn to Kosovo, Macedonia and who knows where. Many contributors to today's debate have reminded us how appeasement encouraged Hitler.

We could lift the arms embargo and let the parties fight it out, in which case humanitarian aid would have to cease. I believe that arms supplies would increase, and conflict and bloodshed would escalate. To lift the arms embargo, we would have to persuade Russia—as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to agree, which it most certainly would not.

What about armed intervention? Military intervention would worsen the situation in former Yugoslavia. It would be difficult to define with clarity any military objectives. In addition, how would we withdraw if the policy failed'? We have to acknowledge that Serbia has enough weapons and ammunition to fight a full-scale war for two years or more. The only way to stop the wheels of war turning is to have a full-scale blockade, but that will not work unless Russia, as well as Serbia's neighbours, Bulgaria and Romania, agree to co-operate. If a blockade is to be effective it must be coupled with a deadline. Unless an ultimatum is given to Serbia to co-operate, the blockade is unlikely to work.

What if the blockade is successful and there is a proper ceasefire? A growing number of people share the view that the Vance-Owen plan is now a non-starter, and a three-way partition of Bosnia is also ruled out. Therefore, there is no alternative but to return to the negotiating table and redraw the map of Bosnia. In any new negotiations, the Bosnian Serbs would be under far greater pressure to agree if a blockade was enforced. Only if the map is redrawn could the United Nations then be asked to set up a protectorate under chapter 12 of the UN charter. I believe that agreement on the map must come first; then the protectorate can be established. The negotiations would stand a better chance of success if they took place in the knowledge that the protectorate would follow.

Even if a plan was agreed by all the parties in former Yugoslavia, it could be achieved only if the UN was prepared to send in troops to underpin it and make it work properly. If that worked, we should have to start thinking about giving the UN the resources to repeat the operation elsewhere. Bosnia presents the western powers with a problem which has serious implications for world peace and the future of the United Nations. I have already referred to 25 conflicts around the world, 17 of which already involve the UN, but there are another 50 or so flashpoints around the world where hostilities could break out at any time.

8.25 pm
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

In view of the shortage of time, I shall merely pick up on one or two of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Romsey arid Waterside (Mr. Colvin). There have been continual references in the debate to the other flashpoints throughout the world, and the 25 wars—or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, the 26 wars. I am sure that he was joking when he increased the number.

There is a difference in degree and character between those 25 wars and the position in former Yugoslavia, which is a legacy of the breakdown and the end of the cold war. Many of the other 25 wars are legacies of the cold war itself, with one side intervening on the part of another because the east or the west was involved. Such intervention increased the trouble as an attempt was made to secure victory for one particular combatant in the cold war. We must increasingly take account of those wars, but the position in former Yugoslavia is of immediate importance.

The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside mentioned Serbian arms. There is no doubt that Serbia has a virtually limitless supply of arms and one of the best military complexes in its part of the world. It is ironic when people say that Russia is prepared to provide more arms to Serbia as the Serbians did not build up their military complex to defend themselves against the west, but against the east—the former USSR and its allies in the Warsaw pact. The idea that Russia will run to the aid of Serbia if the Bosnian nation is armed flies in the face of historical evidence.

It is easy to say—every hon. Member who has participated in the debate has done so—that we are appalled by the position in former Yugoslavia, particularly Bosnia. It makes not one jot of difference whether we are appalled or not. If we are appalled, it will make no difference to the number of lives lost, people maimed and women raped. The only way that we can begin to assist is to do something as an international community or to enable the Bosnian nation to take up arms in its own self-defence.

I shall stand back from the horror and seek to draw some conclusions from the mistakes that the international community has made. The present conflict involves some successes as well as errors.

The United Nations humanitarian aid programme has been a success, and a further success is represented by the fact that the states bordering the former Yugoslavia have not yet been drawn into the conflict. Thirdly, the belated safe city policy, which I hope will turn into a safe haven policy, will provide some succour in the coming months.

These successes, however, are far outweighed by the failures. First, there has been the lack of any overall objective, adopted either by the European Community or latterly by the western allies. Secondly, there was the precipitate recognition of the former republics of Yugoslavia. Thirdly, there was the Vance-Owen plan which is now seen, if not actively to be encouraging ethnic cleansing, at least implicitly to recognise it. Lastly, there is the blanket arms embargo on the former republic of Yugoslavia.

There is no doubt in my mind that these failings have fuelled Serb and Croatian nationalism in Bosnia, encouraging Bosnian Serbs and Croats to take up arms, as they have done in the past 12 months—ably assisted and abetted by their masters in Serbia and Croatia.

In the meantime, the multi-ethnic Bosnian Government are virtually powerless, and, despite their cries for international assistance, they remain defenceless and they have not a cat in hell's chance of the international community exhibiting the political will to intervene in sufficient numbers to separate the combatants in Bosnia. If we do not realise this, we fail to understand one of the principal motives of western policy.

Air strikes are becoming increasingly popular among armchair generals. When they were used in Iraq and elsewhere, many people were critical of them, but now they seem to be becoming the day's best treat. Air strikes are nothing but a figleaf for military inaction. Unless they are the precursor of further military action, they will make no difference. And to pretend that air strikes will make any significant difference to the position of the Bosnian Government flies in the face of the evidence.

The arms embargo is virtually a pro-Serbian and pro-Croatian policy, since both countries have access to huge amounts of arms already. The Bosnian Serbs can acquire further supplies from the Serbian republic, while the Bosnian Government and people are denied the elementary right of self-defence.

The policy implied here is that a political solution in Bosnia will be reached only when the Serbs and Croats have realised all their territorial ambitions, whereupon the Bosnian Government will be reluctantly forced to accept the political fact of a rump Bosnian state.

In the meantime, people still advocate no intervention, but until this military and political stalemate has been achieved, thousands more men, women and children—Bosnian Muslims, Bosnians Serbs and Bosnian Croats—will be maimed or killed. That is intolerable.

I am driven to the view that the west intends to take no action, but I believe that we should at least admit that the Bosnian Government and nation have the right of self-defence, the right to defend the lives of their people and to try to defend the integrity of their territory. The only way of doing that and the only positive policy that we can offer the Bosnian Government is a partial lifting of the arms embargo so that the Bosnian Government can acquire the elementary means of self-defence which the west has been denying them.

8.34 pm
Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

At this stage in a debate of this character, many of the best and most necessary points will already have been made. Having listened to most of the debate, I believe that I can add only a little of value, so I shall try to be as brief as I can.

I want to look at these important questions under three disarmingly simple rhetorical headings. The first is: why are we in this position? When I say "we", I mean not only the House of Commons—it is interesting to speculate why this matter has not been fully debated here before—but the unfortunate people of Bosnia. Why are they in this tragic position?

I also want to say a word or two about some of the options already touched on fairly fully in this debate; and, thirdly, I want to discuss what I believe to be the least bad way forward in this unhappy situation.

Clearly, the original cause of these difficulties was the collapse of the communist yoke in Yugoslavia itself. Whatever else one says about the former Yugoslavia, it worked in a miraculous way to hold in check all the ethnic differences that have now bubbled out, with the tragic consequences that go under the headings of ethnic cleansing and tribalism. But there is more to it than that. The influence of the mass media on both politicians and public has had its effect, and not only by confusing and troubling us in the so-called free world; it has also had dramatic effects on the dramatis personae in the former Yugoslavia.

As we saw in the Iraq-Kuwait conflict and on other occasions, the media not only manipulate us, willingly or unwillingly; they are also used themselves, wittingly or unwittingly, by the participants. I have heard awful but true stories from people who have been out to Bosnia about the way in which certain parties to the conflict have wrought havoc and destruction on their own vulnerable peoples so as to make a point on CNN or world television.

So, we need to be not only idealistic and moralistic but also cynical. It is hard to hold all these perspectives in the mind at one time.

The issue has already been influenced by Lady Thatcher. I have not heard her much mentioned in this debate, but her influence on the American public is still considerable—and on the way in which opinion evolves within the Beltway in Washington.

Then there is the nature of American politics, something about which many of us know a bit at first or second hand. In the past, the only way the Americans have been mobilised for war, civil or abroad, has been by introducing the moral imperative. That can be very dangerous in situations that do not lend themselves to moral courses of action.

There is also the difficulty of the historical precedents, most of which are beguiling and false and some overlooked, which are used in cases like this. I do not believe that the Gulf war is a legitimate precedent for what is possible or desirable in this case. If hon. Members have had amnesia about some of the historical issues, they have had amnesia about the inability of the most powerful nation in the world—the Americans—to subjugate the Vietcong over many years in Vietnam and the equal inability of the Soviets to subjugate the Afghan rebels in territory which is perhaps a little more similar, in topographical terms, to the territory in Bosnia.

What should we do next? The options have been well rehearsed. I believe that we should continue the humanitarian aid effort plus what the Foreign Secretary described as the peace process. He was right to describe it as a peace process, a phrase that is also applied in the middle east context. The Vance-Owen peace plan is, as has been said in this debate on many occasions, now looking a bit dated and irrelevant.

We must turn the economic sanctions, the effect of which has been rather pitiful so far, into a meaningful economic blockade. For example, I understand that, until very recently any lorry or land traffic which could claim that it was in transit through Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia was not affected by any meaningful restrictions. Clearly, things were labelled as being in transit and then, surprise, surprise, they ended up in the relevant place to add to the warfare.

We must also consider the use of selective air strikes. That proposal has been at the heart of this debate. I see only three possible rationales for such a tactic. The first would be as a placebo to make us feel better, and we need only state that for it to be rejected.

The second rationale would be to use selective air strikes as a controlled experiment to test the reaction of the Serbs to see whether such action had any effective leverage over their desire or otherwise to come to the negotiating table. That is the most respectable reason for considering selective air strikes. However, it is not a conclusive reason.

The third rationale, which is the most likely because of the dynamic of escalation, would be to use selective air strikes as yet another step towards a full military commitment which would also involve substantial forces on the ground. I believe that the unwisdom of that was well expressed by Sir Richard Vincent, and I do not have to repeat what he said.

Were we to use ground troops in a peacemaking rather than a peacekeeping role, we would effectively be taking sides to punish aggression. That is a perfectly honourable thing for a nation or group of nations to do, but we must be very clear about the chances of that improving the situation at the end of the day.

Who really are the aggressors? Is Serbia the only aggressor? Obviously that is not the case. There are many other aggressors and no one is really clean. Should we rule out lifting the arms embargo as irresponsible and counterproductive? Yes, I believe that we should. It has been clear throughout this debate that this would be like throwing petrol on a bonfire. Most of the weapons would probably end up in the hands of the Serbs and Croats, and not in the hands of the Muslims, because they have more hard currency, better connections and a larger critical mass of territory to use for that purpose.

The lessons of history should teach us that it is nearly always a bad idea to edge backwards into a policy in which we do not believe and have not thought through. That would be a fair description of what is happening in Washington right now, and it explains to a large extent why President Clinton is taking an inordinately long time for someone with his razor-sharp intellect to reach some sensible conclusions.

What, then, is the least bad way forward? I believe that it is to combine a policy based on our national interest —after all, this is the British House of Commons and our first responsibility is to our voters and to our people—in an area where our national interest is not greatly engaged in the outcome, disagreeable though that may be to some people, with sensible humanitarian efforts and a certain ambiguity about the use of force. I understand the points made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and for Guildford (Mr. Howell) about maintaining ambiguity. If we do not do that, we undercut the threat of force.

That means maintaining the food and medical aid, persisting with the movement of vulnerable people which is a very useful humanitarian activity. It includes tightening sanctions to the extent that they become effectively an economic blockade on Serbia. In that context, we should exhort the Russians and even use leverage on them, now that the referendum is out of the way, to owe us one and pay us one back in return.

We have been unusually generous to President Yeltsin and to the Russian people in recent times. It is time to call in our IOU if there is any danger of the blockade of Serbia being undermined. Above all, we must resist military escalation, which I believe may mean the necessity for firm, quiet, private advice from our Prime Minister to the President.

I remind the House that about 40 years ago Clem Attlee had to go very swiftly and necessarily, at the height of the Korean war and in slightly more serious circumstances than those that we face now, to dissuade President Truman, for whom I had the highest regard, from allowing General MacArthur to use the nuclear weapon against the Chinese and North Koreans.

In retrospect, we can see that was the right decision and a timely intervention. I hope that it will not be necessary for our Prime Minister to do that in quite such a dramatic form. However, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will act as a restraining influence, because I believe that it is not self-evident that the British national interest is such that we should involve ourselves deeply in a process which would only escalate and probably end in tears, not just for the tragic peoples of Bosnia, but also ultimately for the British people themselves.

8.45 pm
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

This is the nightmare debate that I have feared for two and a half years. As long ago as 1985, I addressed a meeting of the British Yugoslav Society in a Committee Room of this House and I pointed out the dangers of the over-decentralisation of that country as it was then. In April 1991, I sent a letter to the Prime Minister, who replied: Under CSCE we support Yugoslavia's unity and also maintain the right of its peoples to self-determination. We thus believe that it is for all Yugoslavs to determine their country's future. I was very concerned that we were not giving enough assistance to the federal Government at that time. We even failed to provide assistance through the know-how fund. Nevertheless, I was pleased to be able to tell the Foreign Secretary that I was glad that he had an even-handed approach to the situation in that country.

That was true in August 1991 when I first met Milosevic and Tudjman and was able to tell them that our country stood by the integrity of Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, in January 1992 the British Government gave in to pressure from those with less sagacity than the Government—simply, I suggest, because of the opt-out on the Maastricht treaty—to the premature recognition of Croatia despite the Badinter report set up by Lord Carrington. That folly led to further folly. We then recognised Bosnia-Herzegovina. People have been talking about the Bosnians as a nation. There is no nationality of Bosnian. They are Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Even the Muslims are Serbs. They are the descendants of those who converted from the Orthodox religion to the Muslim religion during the time of the Ottoman empire.

People want to orchestrate action against the Serbs because the Serbs have committed atrocities. At least I had the guts to say to Milosevic, "Look, what are you doing in Kosovo?" I faced him and asked him that. I also faced Tudjman because the Croats are by no means innocent in all this.

Recent ceasefires have been broken by the Muslims. General Wahlgren, the Swedish commander of UNPROFOR, is reported in the New York Times as saying that the ceasefire was holding in Bosnia until the Muslims in Srebrenica broke it. He said that they broke it because they wanted to invoke western intervention. An article in a Los Angeles periodical, which I could produce, states that General McKenzie, the commander of the UNPROFOR forces until November 1992, said that every ceasefire that he had negotiated was broken by the Muslims. The reason he gave was that they wanted to get the west to intervene on their behalf.

There are 15,000 or 16,000 British troops in Bosnia, but the HVO—the Croat national army—has 60,000 troops there. It is not a Bosnian-Croat army. Colonel Bob Stewart was justly angry at the atrocities committed by the HVO. He said, "The HVO said 'no cameras' and I told them to get stuffed." He was right. The commander in chief of that army is the President of Croatia, President Tudjman, but that army is not the worst. The HOS troops wear Utashe arm bands and flaunt the swastika in areas around Mostar.

When I was in Geneva, the military adviser to David Owen told me that one of the biggest problems faced by the British Army was the HOS, but we still hear orchestrated campaigns about Serbian aggression. More than 60 per cent. of the land in Bosnia-Herzegovina was owned by Serbian people when the conflict started, but only 34 per cent. of the population are Serbs. Only one large town which could be described as Muslim has been taken by the Serbs—the town which controls the water supply to Banja Luka, which is a Serbian stronghold.

I have seen Bosnian Muslims at the Palic refugee camp in the north of Serbia looked after by Serbs and the International Red Cross. It is untrue to say that every Muslim is at risk. Ironically, those who are calling for military intervention in the former Yugoslavia are the same people who call for troops to be pulled out of Ireland. When an- Italian plane was shot down by the Croats, people said, "Bomb the Serbs." When a French United Nations convoy was attacked by Muslims and people were killed, there was the same cry. On 26 January, the Croats launched their attack on Kriena and the cry was "Bomb the Serbs." When one of our soldiers was killed by Croat bullets, people again said, "Bomb the Serbs." The same cry was heard even when it was discovered that the attack on a bread queue in Sarajevo was by Muslims. On Friday there were television reports of Croat atrocities and on television last night we saw Muslims demanding to be allowed to search British tanks for civilians. Yet in both cases people said, "Bomb the Serbs."

My party talks about air strikes without understanding the consequences, not only for the civilian population but for humanitarian aid because the strikes would be on bridges across which that aid pours into Bosnia from Serbia. Most of the convoys come from Belgrade, across bridges such as that which I saw a few months ago. That is not a rational formulation of policy—it is giving in to an emotional spasm.

The Vance-Owen plans has often been held up as though it were sacrosanct, but in March 1992 there was another plan which all three parties agreed to sign. But then the Muslims withdrew. There are alternatives to the Vance-Owen plan. We must not become hung up on the idea that that is the only possibility on offer. Churchill once said that "jaw, jaw" was better than "war, war." Neither air strikes nor military intervention will solve the problem.

People do not think about the political consequences of intervention in Serbia. Two years ago, I spoke in the House about Vojislav Seselj. When I met Milosevic at that time I said, "The more bloodshed there is, the more this escalates and the more your position is at risk." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Seselj, the fascists, the chetnik radical party, the people who were responsible for the murder of 17 Croats in the area around Osijek." He said, "Oh no, they have only one or two Members of Parliament." In the election in December they won 75 of the 250 seats in the Yugoslav Parliament.

Air strikes, more military intervention or even tightening sanctions will not destroy Milosevic in favour of democratic forces. It will harness the decent Serbian people behind Seselj and people like him and war criminals. That would be piling folly upon folly. Last December I met Albanians in Kosovo who are under moderate leadership. They have legitimate complaints and need to have their human rights protected. The CSCE is there now and I was glad to hear the Foreign Secretary say that that will be strengthened. War in Bosnia will encourage extremists among the Albanians.

8.55 pm
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) made a powerful speech. The information that I have shows that there is little difference between the atrocities committed by all three parties to the conflict, the Serbs, the Croats and the Muslims in Bosnia. I say that on the basis of a visit there in February and some discussions. I agree that the Serbs are responsible for most of the aggression, but that does not mean that they commit the majority of the atrocities.

I heard it said today that because such atrocities are happening in the former Yugoslavia we should be ashamed to be British. That is most unfair. We should feel a sense of shame that human beings can behave in that way towards one another. They are worse than animals because animals rarely kill, other than for food. Through our soldiers we can feel a sense of pride in the courage and skill that they have dedicated to the distribution of humanitarian aid. They are under considerable threat and exercising their skill with great determination and humour. Their presence gives us an authority as well as a responsibility to try to work out where we should go from here.

There are many demands for further action but what should it be? The imposition of the Vance-Owen peace plan is not on the cards because it is not acceptable to all those who are concerned and the number of troops that it would require is massive. lf we tried to impose the plan we would require about 10 times the number of troops in Northern Ireland, which means about 250,000.

Bombing the Serbs has been suggested, but those who suggest that speak about surgical bombing strikes. Bombs can be accurately aimed but they are not always accurate, and bombing would certainly not stop the Croats and Muslims murdering each other in central Bosnia. We could stand back and allow the Muslims to be armed, but such arms would need to be delivered by air, which would be extremely hazardous, or would have to come through Serbian or Croat lines and would no doubt be intercepted because I cannot imagine that the Muslims, who are being fought by both the Serbs and the Croats, would allow the arms to get through. They would probably be confiscated en route. Hon. Members have mentioned safe havens. I shall deal with that later, but one must ask who would protect those safe havens.

Every proposed solution is unrealistic because of the nature of the terrain and the ferocity of the three factions. It is unrealistic to expect an external imposition of a military solution. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgewater (Mr. King) said that we should not disclose too much of our hand but should keep the Serbs and others guessing about our intentions. This debate addressed several audiences but the audiences to which we should most address ourselves are those in the United States where people are agonising about their future course of action. In any event, Americans are more likely to listen to the debate than the Serbs.

We need to point out to the Americans the dangers of more action and the vulnerability of our troops. We are entitled to say to them that our troops are within range of Serb and other gun positions. I shall not go into detail but I have seen guns that cover our positions in Bosnia. We and the French are certainly entitled to say to the Americans and others, "You are not on the ground and we are. Do nothing to make the position worse."

It is clear from visits I have paid to America that the people in the Pentagon, in NATO, in SHAPE, in SACEUR, in the executive in the US Administration, appreciate the risks and problems that might be faced in Bosnia if we now escalate the situation. but it is not clear that that is understood on the Hill among the elected representatives or among the American media.

The points raised by Warren Christopher—the points on which he would insist in any further escalation of the war in Bosnia—show, in the four conditions he laid down, that the goal must be clear and understandable to the American people. Why the American people? The truth is that the American people, for their own reasons of American politics, are concerned to find a way ahead and to respond to the mass of emotion that is rightly sweeping across the world and demanding a response. He goes on to signal other points that must be fulfilled, but basically his four points are for American consumption.

If I am ruling out many ways in which the war might be escalated, do I believe that there is a possible way forward? First, sanctions could be increased to a full blockade, and we are entitled, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) said, as members of the Group of Seven, having promised substantial aid to Russia and with Russia having cleared out of the way the referendum to confirm Yeltsin in a position of authority, to demand full, active and positive co-operation from the Russians. That is an important new point.

Secondly, in terms of humanitarian aid, it is well known that our troops are pushing their brief to, and well beyond, the limits. When the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) demands safe havens, he must accept that in a small, local and pragmatic way, that is tending to happen in Bosnia now as the troops who are there for the distribution of humanitarian aid talk to each side and try to arrange solutions that are acceptable in local areas.

If we were to endorse and support the concept of a development of the Vance-Owen plan with different lines being drawn on the map of Bosnia and with a different geographical area being imposed on each side, it might work if it were pragmatic and local. But if that were to come from New York or some other area, it would not work. It is important to remember that our troops, who are performing well in Bosnia, are acting as a kind of dragging anchor, preventing the situation from drifting into total anarchy.

My third point has not been made before today. We in the United KIngdom have spent about £200 million so far on military force in Bosnia in assisting the distribution of humanitarian aid. All of that has gone effectively into supporting the military. Little has been offered in the way of reconstruction to former Yugoslavia. Every solution and every building block to be discussed so far has been negative, warning, in effect, "If you continue to advance, we shall bomb you," and "If you continue to advance, we shall allow arms to go through to your enemies." We must think of more positive things to say to the people of the former Yugoslavia. Having spent £200 million on saving that country from the worst excesses of war, we and others could surely find some money to offer to the sides as an inducement—as a carrot as opposed to a stick—to come to the peace table and discuss the terms of a settlement.

We and the French are actively engaged in Bosnia. The three most effective economic nations—America, Japan and Germany—are, for their different reasons, not so engaged, but they could co-operate in a reconstruction plan. Further funds offered to the three sides through the United Nations could act as a bargaining counter and would represent a positive step forward.

I am not entirely without hope for Bosnia. The United States has been through the difficult period of the election and the new Administration is now fully engaged in discussing the issue. I am greatly impressed by the understanding in America of the problems of Bosnia. That must be fully debated so that that knowledge filters through to the American people. The Russians should now be called in to assist us. With that support and with the continued assistance of the troops on the ground, there might yet be hope for Bosnia.

9.4 pm

Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

What is morally right in the former Yugoslavia is also in our self-interest, and those who have pretended that the two are in conflict are profoundly wrong. Serbia is the major aggressor in the former Yugoslavia and hon. Members who pretend either that there is a civil war or that all the parties are equally guilty are making an excuse for inaction against the major aggressor and are wrongly confusing the situation.

Serbia is trying to acquire territory by force. It has invaded other states recognised by the United Nations. It is deliberately engaging in ethnic cleansing. It is systematically slaughtering minorities and terrorising them out of the area that it wants to take. There has always been a lot of rape in times of war, but Serbia has organised a new war crime; the systematic and deliberate use of rape as a weapon of ethnic cleansing to shame women, children and even men—the latter is not much talked about because of the absolute horror of male rape.

It is a pretence to claim that the Bosnian Serbs are not controlled, succoured and given all the resources that they need by the Serbian state. Serbia has already taken 30 per cent. of Croatian territory and 70 per cent. of Bosnia. The aggressor is succeeding. We know that Serbia wants more. We know that it wants to ethnically cleanse Kosovo. If we do not stop it, it will go there. We know that it wants Macedonia. Therefore, it is not a civil war.

The voices in the House that have constantly said that the situation is dangerous and that military action must be ruled out have given the green light to Serbian aggression. They have been saying "Carry on, do nothing." Anyone who has said that there can be no military intervention until all the parties have agreed is reinforcing the Serbian veto. It was the Serbs who would not go for the Vance-Owen plan—a deeply flawed plan that rewards and encourages ethnic cleansing.

Those who say that there can be no action without agreement from the Serbs, and that no military action can be taken to stop the Serbs, are telling the Serbs to carry on with their aggression, ethnic cleansing, rape and the taking of territory because we will do nothing. That, I am afraid, has been the stance of our Government. It is shameful, and also deeply dangerous to the self-interest of the British people, which the Government are not protecting.

There is no doubt that Croatia is also an aggressor—on a lesser scale but nonetheless an aggressor—engaged in a breach of international law in seeking to acquire territory by force. The aggression in which it is engaged is encouraged by the Vance-Owen plan because that would divide Bosnia into ethnic enclaves. Now Croatia wants to take those enclaves into its state. As others have said, the Vance-Owen plan is dead, and we need to learn the lesson that ethnic enclaves in Bosnia are not the way forward for peace in the former Yugoslavia. We need to protect and celebrate multi-ethnic Bosnia rather than break it down.

Bosnia is the major victim. It surprises me, but it is interesting that frequently in the media, and often in the House, there is talk of Muslim Bosnia. That is wrong; that is false. I wonder why they do it. There is no doubt that the majority of the people of Bosnia are Muslim, but Bosnia is a multi-ethnic state, and that is an important part of what is at stake in the conflict. Some 26 per cent. of Bosnian families are mixed. Muslims, Croats and Serbs intermarry and live side by side in the same families in the same cities. The Bosnian fighters, who are fighting almost without arms, with only rifles against large aggressors with major equipment, are Muslims, Serbs and Croats.

It is wrong to talk about Bosnia as if it were only a Muslim state; it is a multi-ethnic state that was recognised by the United Nations and that has all the same rights as Kuwait in international law. We are seeing it decimated, broken up and ethnically cleansed with deep war crimes, yet many hon. Members have said that we must do nothing about it.

We are seeing a war involving heavily armed forces because Serbia has most of the arms of the former Yugoslav army. Yugoslavia was a major arms supplier and trader, so to talk about the arms embargo being even-handed is a disgraceful distortion. The Serbs are using heavy artillery to slaughter women and children, because most of the men are not there to ethnically cleanse. The Serbs have no courage whatsoever. The Bosnian fighters have only rifles, yet hon. Members have repeated that, if we lifted the arms embargo, there would be more deaths. Anyone who uses that argument is looking forward to the death of Bosnia with the Bosnians being unable to fight because they have so few weapons.

An escalation would mean that the Bosnian people would have more equality and a better chance to defend themselves. That would be a less favourable option, but, if the west is unwilling to do anything, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) argued, that is the least we owe to Bosnia. I hope that we will do

Anyone who argues that the embargo is somehow even-handed and is preventing war is not attending to the reality of a heavily armed aggressor fighting an unarmed people, slaughtering their women and children and systematically raping women and girls in order to acquire territory by force.

I said at the beginning of my speech that stopping Serbian aggression is both morally right and in Britain's self-interest. Some enormously important and precious things are at stake, especially in the so-called new world order now that the certainties of the cold war, ugly as they may have been, have ended.

We are witnessing the absolute undermining of international law. The international community recognised Croatia as a full state in international law, the Serbs are invading and seeking to break up that state, yet nothing is being done.

We are seeing genocide which is a breach of the United Nations convention. The world learnt after Hitler's aggression that something had to be done to create international law to stop such evil war crimes as genocide, yet we are seeing it again and being told that nothing can be done.

The authority of the United Nations is being undermined. We have forces on the ground wearing United Nations helmets and operating under the United Nations flag yet the Serbian fighters are saying, "You cannot come here. You cannot bring food in here. We will not let you through." The United Nations is being belittled and humiliated and that is serious for the future of any order and decency in international law and world stability.

We are also seeing the destabilisation of Europe. If the war does not stop it is likely that it will spread to Kosovo; it is very likely that it will spread to Macedonia. If it spreads to Macedonia, and Greece and Turkey are involved, two NATO powers are potentially at war and that is extremely dangerous. It could escalate and it could suck our young men into an horrendous war in future if we do not stop it now.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said, even if it does not escalate to that extent, about 2 million people have already been displaced. The number of refugees will desatabilise Europe. Germany has already taken large numbers of refugees and ugly, right-wing, fascist parties are growing in Germany because of the problem of refugees. Will we settle the conflict by allowing people to live at peace in their own countries or will there be millions of refugees with all the consequences of destabilisation flowing across Europe?

Finally, it is in our interest not to allow evil, fascist dictators, who wish to acquire territory by force and are willing to engage in genocide, to get away with it. If we cannot stop it in Serbia, there will be others.

The situation in the former Soviet Union is frightening. Petty dictators there are looking to see what the world community is doing about the conflict and will feel encouraged to take similar action. It is not a question of morality verses rationality and self-interest; it is in our interest to stop what is happening in Serbia now before it spreads, escalates and undermines any decency in international law and the authority of the United Nations.

The question is what is to be done. I agree with all those who have said that major errors have been made in the past. The way in which the states of the former Yugoslavia were recognised was wrong. It should have been made clear that recognition was dependent on the absolute undertaking not to seek to change any boundary by force and absolute protection for the human rights of minorities within those states. They should have been clearly entrenched as preconditions of recognition, but they were not.

The failure to consider limited air strikes earlier was disastrous. It was led by those who said that no troops could be risked on the ground. A generation, thinking of the Serbians as the good guys, roughly speaking, in the last war, could not see the reality of what was going on on this occasion. They were scared stiff by any possibility of troops on the ground and therefore rules out even the use of air strikes.

When the artillery and the mortars were raining down on Sarajevo—remember, on the hospital, on the buses full of orphans trying to get away—if there had been limited use of air strikes then, it might have turned back the Serbian aggression. However, errors were made and we must deal with the situation that we face now.

There are three options. We can carry on as now. Yes, sanctions can be tightened, but why were they not tightened earlier? Humanitarian aid will be increasingly difficult to deliver. We can rule out any military action. The Secretary of State may be about to do that in a few minutes. Serbian aggression will continue until the Serbs are satisfied that Bosnia will be destroyed and aggression will succeed.

Sanctions are important but they cannot work in lime without something else alongside them. That is the road that we are on now. The Government talk as though they are examining other options and have plenty of time to do so. They do not. If they do not take some kind of urgent action, that will be the outcome.

The second option, the fashionable recent option, is air strikes. That is the "we have got to do something" option; the "we do not have a strategy, but it is dreadful just to let it go on; we do not want any troops on the ground, so let's bomb a few supposed supply lines and pretend that that will bring the conflict to an end" option. That is not a serious option.

When military spokesmen spoke recently at press conferences about the need for a serious strategy, they were objecting to air strikes without an underpinning strategy. Safe havens are the right way forward. I agree with the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) who said that the troops on the ground are almost trying to create safe havens. The politicians are failing to go for that option. The senior military commanders might not be calling for it, but the troops on the ground are virtually trying to create safe havens.

We let Srebrenica be destroyed, then the Canadians went in, then the United Nations declared it a protected area and then the British Government said that they would help to protect it. Why did we not do that earlier? The only way forward is now to declare that the United Nations will create safe havens in the major area that is left of former Bosnia. Once safe havens have been created—that means no aggression and no attempt to take territory back by force—any aggression against United Nations forces will be answered with force. That means troops on the ground and a willingness to use force to protect what remains. Then, within what remains, we could deliver humanitarian aid and wait for sanctions to work.

Of course there would then have to be a new political settlement and we must seek not to reward any aggression and changing of boundaries by force. That is the only way forward. It is the option that we are creeping towards. It is the option for which our forces on the ground are asking. It is the only one that will give us any dignity and contain the ever-spreading situation.

I plead with the Secretary of State not to rule that out and not to keep sending the message to the Serbs that Britain will never back military action. That is like saying, "Go on offending. Go on being aggressive. We will never do anything to stop you."

9.19 pm
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

At this late hour and in order to try to let another colleague in, my colleagues will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to make the speech that I had planned but just to say a very few words.

There has been a lot of talk about sending our troops, about our doing this, that and the other, and about United Nations authority. Commendable as all those feelings are, we are dealing overwhelmingly with Uncle Sam, with our ally, the United States of America, and the burden on President Clinton at the moment is considerable.

To give a brief example of that, we had a debate in January on Iraq, on the coalition and the enforcement of the no-fly zone. It was announced that the coalition had, in its first despatch of aircraft, sent—if I remember rightly —114 planes into action to enforce, by bombing, the no-fly zone. Of those 114 we sent six, including two tankers, and the French sent six. There were 102 American combat aircraft. One could go through the Gulf war and give even starker examples.

So when it comes to intervention anywhere and when we talk about United Nations authority, not only do we need United Nations consent and Russian approval, we need also American leadership, call it what we may. We need better allied participation, and we need the planned and full use of all three armed services of the countries involved.

In other words, we must permit from the outset, at least in planning, the use of ground troops. It is not practical to speak of using air power without ground forces, and I am amazed at one or two colleagues on both sides, whose views I often agree with, and particularly one or two of my hon. Friends, who have been almost wildly impractical in advocating bombing without saying what else they would do.

This is really the outcome of what I call "war by television". It is very wrong, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) in an elegant speech, dealt with this very well. As has come out in the debate, one is dealing with high emotions on both sides, encouraged by the sort of part-information that one is given on television. It is the duty of all politicians not to react to that, nor to react to our own emotions in what is indeed an appalling situation but rather to approach the situation in a practical way.

All I would say to Her Majesty's Government is that, while we will do what we can in the ways that have been described, the worst scenario of all would be to be gradually sucked into anything because we refused to face

9.21 pm
Mr. Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Small Heath)

There are no easy solutions in this terrible tragedy. I certainly cannot offer any words of wisdom which might throw new light on this terrible problem, but I should like to make one or two points.

We have all heard about the terrible atrocities being carried out, and there is no doubt, despite what was said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), that the majority of the atrocities have been carried out by the Serbs and the Croatians and not by the Muslim communities. That is fact. It must also be pointed out that the current conflict was not precipitated by Bosnia. Bosnia did not start the break-up of Yugoslavia. That was brought about by the militant nationalism of Tudjman and Milosevic.

If it had been a question of individual republics going their own way when Yugoslavia began to fall apart, maybe the history of the past two years would have been different, but it has been conpounded and confused by Milosevic's dream of a greater Serbia. What does a greater Serbia mean? It means the annexation of parcels of land in an independent country by another country. That is what this is all about. Bosnia is an independent country and is recognised as one. It did not ask to become an independent country, nor did it ask for the break-up of Yugoslavia, but when Yugoslavia broke up Bosnia became an independent country.

Serbia is also an independent country, but Milosevic is not satisfied. His dream of a greater Serbia means that large parts of Bosnia need to be annexed and added to the Serbian state. Do we in the international community just stand by, despite all the difficulties, and watch this happen or do we try to do something?

I am not one of those who say that we should try to do something without suggesting what should be done. Let us be under no illusion, however: this is naked aggression by one state against another, made even worse by the fact that the aggressor is using not only the conventional machinery of war, but something much more insidious—it is using rape as a weapon, in order to humiliate a population.

I do not believe that anything will happen until a stalemate is reached. Serbia will be stopped only by force of one kind or another—unless, as I fear, it stops when it has attained its objectives. I understand all the difficulties involved, but if the international community—by which I mean the United Nations—cannot organise itself to take action, what right has it to deny an independent country which is under attack and being dismembered the right to obtain arms to defend itself. What right have we to do that?

That might be a valid argument if we were offering a possible way of resolving the problem or returning it to the negotiating table, but I fear that, as the weeks and months roll on, there will continue to be no action. If that is the case, can we honestly tell an independent country that it has not the right to obtain arms to defend itself? [HON. MEMBERS: "It is a civil war."] No, it is not. If it is a civil war, why has the international community imposed sanctions against Serbia? What right has it to impose sanctions against another independent country if it is not directly involved in what is going on? The international community is well aware that this is not a civil war in the traditional sense; it is naked aggression by one country against another.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) mentioned the Spanish civil war. I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber now. He pointed out that the other European powers did not wish to become involved in that war; it should be emphasised, however, that what the Spanish republican Government were asking for above all else was the right to arm and defend themselves. The international community said, "No, we will not stop you doing that"—and we all know what the consequences were.

I have listened to the other options that have been mentioned. I have grave doubts about the success of bombing gun targets. I do not believe that there is such a thing as pinpoint bombing; in any case, what will we do when the Serbs move their gun encampments into civilian areas—next to hospitals or mosques? I also have grave doubts about whether simply aiming at the supply lines in Bosnia would solve the problem. A few days ago, George Shultz said, "If you want to break the supply lines, you bomb all the way to Belgrade." He is right: that is the only way to disrupt the supply lines.

I heard what the leader of the Liberal Democrats said about safe havens, and I sympathised with his view to some extent. I have my doubts about whether the idea will work, but it should be on the table as a possibility.

I believe that we shall halt Serbian aggression only by massive military action. That might not be what we want, but we should be under no illusion: only by massive military intervention on the ground, involving American troops and those from other countries, shall we have any chance of halting Serbian aggression. I do not think that the international community will agree, for some valid reasons, but if the international community does not take that step and is not prepared to commit itself to halting Serbian aggression, it should not deny the legitimate, multiracial Government of Bosnia the right to defend themselves.

9.30 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

We have had a thoughtful debate. Twenty-two right hon. and hon. Members have participated and expressed views as diverse as those held by our own electors. Divisions have occurred, not always across the Chamber but sometimes within our parties. There have been some strange alliances and there are some strange views, but they are held with conviction.

We have heard views as diverse as those expressed by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who I think argued that there should be no military intervention in Bosnia. I contrast those with the views of my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), who said that, no matter how long it takes and no matter how many troops are needed, there is a moral imperative for us to go into Bosnia.

We heard the cool logic of my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who outlined our case, in contrast to the passion of my hon. Friends the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short), who set out their views with emotion and clarity. My hon. Friends the Members for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar), for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) and for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) all suggested a cautious and reasoned approach, and all came to slightly different conclusions. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) gave us an insight based on an authentic account of his experiences in the former republic of Yugoslavia and in Bosnia and Croatia.

The words of hon. Members of all parties have added to the richness of the debate. I am sure that the Government have taken note of those words and experiences. Certainly I found them very valuable.

The Foreign Secretary began the debate in a reasoned and rational manner, perhaps weakening only as he reached his peroration, when he seemed to lose his nerve. He showed a certain lack of urgency which highlights, or perhaps epitomises, the Government's attitude. We felt that he showed a certain lack of resolve at that stage as if he was retreating under smoke. He mentioned Macedonia and Kosovo. He recognises the problem down the line, but he did not mention once the best tack which he could take to stabilise the situation and which is in his power, and that is to recognise Macedonia. It is already a member of the United Nations and has a democratically elected Government.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

By voting for the admission of Macedonia into the United Nations, we have recognised Macedonia.

Dr. Clark

I am delighted to hear that. It is an excellent point. I hope that before long we shall have accredited representatives there and that we shall do whatever we can to facilitate the financial situation. That issue has not been dealt with. At present, the citizens of that country can trade only in international currencies such as the deutschmark and the American dollar. The Government may have recognised Macedonia formally; they need to move speedily to the next step of putting into effect the apparatus of recognition. Only when that apparatus is in place can we begin to show that we support the boundaries of Macedonia and that we mean what we say. We can also support the 700 United Nations troops who are showing the determination of the United Nations towards the integrity of the state.

Although we have heard many fine words in the House today, perhaps there were more words of wisdom outside which, in a sense, sparked off this debate and shadowed it. I refer to the words of our only serving field marshal, Sir Richard Vincent. He is the chairman of NATO's military command and a former Chief of Defence Staff in the United Kingdom. In a sense, he gave us, as politicians, a timely reminder only a few days ago when he said: The first principle of war is…decide what you're trying to achieve before you go out there. It was a timely reminder and showed a perceptive view. We have always supported the view of the primacy of political objectives in warfare. When the House first debated the deployment of British troops to Bosnia, I said: there must be a political resolution of the problem in Bosnia…The use of the military is merely a means to an end—we should never forget that objective."—[Official Report, 25 September 1992; Vol. 212, c. 180.] It is important to remember that the use of the military is a means to an end.

It is right and proper to ask: what are we trying to achieve? What is the ultimate objective of our policy? I suggest that we are trying to reach the point at which the people currently living in Bosnia can live a life of some normality without the threat of rape, pillage and murder in the foreseeable future. That is what we are trying to achieve.

If we can use the military to force the warring factions to sign a peace agreement and then perhaps send in United Nations troops to ensure that that agreement is policed, that would be the first step along the path. It is useful to remind ourselves of what we are trying to achieve. As we move towards that objective, we must use other limited transitional objectives as building blocks to move closer to our ultimate objective. At present, the only United Nations objective that is backed by the use of force is the delivery of humanitarian aid.

For colleagues to argue that the flow of aid is diminishing does not serve us well. I have seen the figures for the past week—1,260 tonnes of aid were delivered by our convoys. That does not show any marked diminution of delivery.

Mr. Ashdown

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's argument. Does he realise that, because of the Croatian fighting, all of the aid is coming through not Croatia but Serbia? The hon. Gentleman referred earlier to cool logic. Will he explain the cool logic of bombing the only supply lines that are providing that humanitarian aid to Bosnia?

Dr. Clark

Perhaps I could come to that point. When there was an intervention on the right hon. Gentleman, he insisted on dealing with the point when he came to it. I will deal with the point, because it is important.

We are fortunate that we have not had to use much force. The mere presence of our armed forces, their determination and skill and the negotiating skill of the local commanders has meant that force has, by and large, not been necessary. We are now approaching the time when we must pay more attention perhaps to extending the

We may need to use military action to develop the humanitarian aid. Obviously, the military means of achieving the objective are varied and many. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has set out the views of the Labour party relating to air strikes, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland repeated them earlier. They both made it clear that the action would be designed to bring the slaughter to an early end. We have said repeatedly that the Labour party recognises that that entails risks for the safety of British personnel in the area.

The Government have shown that they do not have a closed mind about military action. If the Government pursue that line, they must take the necessary precautions. They must either deploy additional personnel to protect the soldiers delivering humanitarian aid or they must withdraw those soldiers. Clearly, it would be highly irresponsible to carry out air strikes without taking those precautions.

We recognise that it is not possible with one or a few strikes to do anything other than hamper the supply lines. But the aim is to show our intent and determination to the Serbs that they must sign the peace agreement. I remind the House that we are nearly there. There are three parts to the peace agreement. The Serbs have signed two. Only the map part remains to be determined. As I understood him, the Foreign Secretary made it clear this afternoon that the precise boundaries on the map were negotiable. He said that there was still room for manoeuvre on the boundaries. Only last weekend, Lord Owen offered a major development when he suggested in advance of the implementation of the plan a corridor protected by the United Nations linking the two Serb areas.

I should like to take it a stage further. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East has also said that we have an inescapable moral duty to do everything within our power to end the slaughter of innocent people which we witness on a daily basis. That is why I wish to mention another type of military action which could be used to safeguard non-combatants—the establishment of safe areas. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has proposed such a move. I suggest that the Government should not shut off that option from the range that they may be considering.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces told me earlier this week that it was impossible in the absense of an effective peace agreement to envisage the establishment of genuine safe areas"—[Official Report, 27 April 1993; Vol. 223, c. 393.] I should be interested to know whether he was referring to the overall settlement or simply to local arrangements. If the latter is the case, I heartily agree with him. It would be difficult to establish safe havens without some form of local establishment. However, if he believes that safe havens cannot be established until after a general political settlement for the whole of Bosnia, he is being far too cautious. We have never ruled out that option.

I hope that the Secretary of State will urgently reconsider his view because the establishment of safe havens may turn out to be one of the few methods available to the United Nations to ensure the protection of non-combatants. I repeat that we believe that there may be an opportunity to establish agreed safe havens possibly for the different ethnic groups. There is an opportunity for lateral thinking there. There is an opportunity to explore some different approaches.

Clearly, the United Nations has not been best organised for military action. Yet virtually all hon. Members accept that if any military action is taken, it must be under the auspices of the United Nations.

On 8 March, the Secretary of State for Defence said that the Government would consider favourably any request from the UN to provide further military personnel. Have the Government done so?

In the longer term, a lasting and peaceful settlement of the dispute is required and the UN now needs to reconsider how to achieve that given the recent Serbian rejection of the Vance-Owen proposals. Some hon. Members believe that those proposals are dead—as dead as a dodo, as one hon. Member said. Others believe that they are still on the table for negotiation. We share the latter belief.

The international community may feel that it is right to impose the Vance-Owen proposals on Bosnia, or it may decide to try to develop some other type of plan. Has the Secretary of State any views about the earlier discussions held prior to and at the Lisbon conference in May 1992, when a map drawn up by our compatriot, Mr. Darwin, was agreed and signed by two sides of the conflict? That agreement was given a fair blessing by the Bosnian Government, only to be withdrawn later. I am merely asking a question about that agreement, but I believe that we should keep all our options open at this stage.

The Labour party firmly believes that the authority to sanction the use of force in Bosnia is the UN. The Labour party is committed, under clause 7 of its rule book, to work for the strengthening of the UN. The Opposition have argued consistently that the UN should be involved not only in the Bosnian conflict, but in many others.

We should remember that, according to the UN charter, one of the reasons, ironically, that it was founded was to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war". We have seen on our television screens the ghastly effects of war in Bosnia and now is the time, in the words of that charter, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women".

9.47 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

Today we have experienced the House at its most stimulating, with a series of powerful and convincing speeches from both sides of the House, expressing both sides of the argument. It was one of those rare occasions when, as each hon. Member rose, the House waited to find what he or she had to say, having no knowledge in advance, in most cases, of what that might be.

Speeches were delivered with great conviction. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) put forward strongly his long-held views. I then heard my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) put a contrary case with equal passion and conviction. There were many examples of that phenomenon.

Much of the debate has centred on the role of the United Nations. Some hon. Members have expressed understandable disappointment that it has not, so far, been able to realise the aspirations that we would have wished to see realised. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) was perhaps unwise to describe the United Nations as having been humiliated and having failed in its objectives. It is not unreasonable to point out that in a significant respect the United Nations has already achieved more in Bosnia than it has achieved in any comparable crisis since its creation.

If one looks at the ghastly wars that have taken place in recent years, it is only on this occasion that the United Nations, with the tremendous contribution of British forces, along with other forces, has been able to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

One remembers that the United Nations was unable to make any useful contribution during the genocide in Cambodia under Pol Pot. Hon. Members have referred to the continuing agony and anger felt about that civil war, which has gone on for a decade, during which hundreds of thousands of people have been murdered. A tremendous number of atrocities have been committed in Cambodia, but the United Nations has been unable to make a significant contribution to saving lives.

Therefore, although it is understandable that we should be disappointed that the war has not been brought to an end, the United Nations deserves a tribute, which it is right and proper to give. It has not failed in Bosnia; it has already saved the lives of tens of thousands, possibly

I also listened to the argument that we have a special responsibility in the former Yugoslavia that does not apply in other parts of the world. I can understand that, at a political level, we in the United Kingdom clearly have a security interest in stability in Europe. However, I hope that hon. Members will not advance that argument on moral grounds when they demand at the same time that any action must be taken in the name of the United Nations. The UN can make no moral distinction between intervening in Bosnia and intervening in Angola or Cambodia—its responsibility is to the global community. Those hon. Members who called for UN intervention. but sought to imply that it must be made in Bosnia even if not elsewhere, displayed an inappropriate inconsistency.

We are all seeking to address the moral and ethical issues. I do not believe that either side of the argument has a monopoly on ethical wisdom, but sometimes the arguments are advanced as if that were so. I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short), who called for the ending of the arms embargo. At first glance, her argument that people had a right to defend themselves and that the Bosnian Muslims had a right to self-defence seemed acceptable and reasonable. Who could possibly take exception to that view?

However, the hon. Lady knows as well as other hon. Members that, when one lifts an embargo and the international community starts supplying arms to a war of particular viciousness, one has no control. The donors of those weapons have no control over how they are used. When we are already aware that vicious atrocities have been committed by all parties in the war, it is not sufficient to say that, because most of the atrocities may have been committed by the Serbians, it is ethically acceptable to provide arms to other parties in the conflict, which may also use them for similar purposes.

Let us imagine that we, or the international community, supplied arms to the Bosnian Muslims or the Bosnian Croats for self-defence and that, one month later, a conflict such as we saw a week or so ago broke out among Croats and Muslims, with British troops in the middle of the conflict trying to sort out the mess, and British soldiers ended up being killed by those who had been provided with weapons by the international community—ostensibly for their own self-defence, not for aggressive purposes. The ethical argument cannot be made in favour of lifting the embargo when that could be the outcome which we would have on our consciences and with which we would have to live.

Ms Short

I want to make it clear that in my speech I said that I preferred the option of the United Nations taking action to halt Serbian aggression and the strategy of safe havens, but that if we did not adopt that policy, it seemed wrong to continue the arms embargo and not allow the Bosnian people to defend themselves.

Mr. Rifkind

I understand that argument, but the hon. Lady cannot avoid the consequences of the actions that she advocates. If those actions were to lead to the arms being used, not just in self-defence, but for the commission of atrocities, all of us—including the hon. Lady—would feel ashamed of the action that we had initiated.

Mr. Frank Field

Does not the Secretary of State feel slightly uncomfortable about the fact that, having been on the winning side in four elections fought on the need for a balance of terror on both sides, and on the success of that policy, he now thinks that the same strategy would not work in Bosnia?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman's argument is uncharacteristically illogical. It is one thing in a state of peace to ensure that a deterrent is maintained between two potential aggressors by ensuring that those who wish to defend themselves from aggression are properly armed; it is quite a different matter to start supplying arms to one side in a vicious war and believe that one is contributing to peace.

As for whether this is a civil war, let us not get into an argument about semantics. Of course it is not purely a civil war; of course there are characteristics about the war that make it similar to many civil wars. The crucial point to be borne in mind is that because the vast majority of those taking part in the actual fighting are Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats—until a year ago, they were living in the same villages, streets and communities—we cannot treat this in exactly the same way as an invasion of one country by another.

That is why the parallels sometimes drawn with the Gulf or the Falklands, with respect to military intervention, are utterly wrong. In those cases there was a military solution if the political will existed. In both cases, the political will did exist, and the invader was eventually expelled from the country it had invaded. But no Bosnian Serb, Muslim or Croat can be expelled from Bosnia by a United Nations army or by other forces.

Mr. Cormack

Of course, many of the Muslims have indeed been expelled from their own country by the Serbs. Would my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge —this has already been acknowledged often—that this war was started by Belgrade and is still being supplied by Belgrade? Almost daily, tanks are going from Serbia into Bosnia.

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, of course. My hon. Friend is right to say that a huge amount of unwarranted intervention by the former Republic of Yugoslavia, in the form of Serbia and Montenegro, is going on. That is why the Government support the blockade of Serbia—to force it to change its ways.

Mr. Wareing

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Rifkind

I am afraid that I do not have much longer to speak.

We always listen with great care to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). He called on the Government instantly to rule out all possible use of force, either now or in the future. In that respect he was unwise. I believe that we should pay considerable attention to the counsel of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). It is important for several reasons to act in the way that he suggested.

First, it is important to think about the consequences of what we say and how it will be heard in Belgrade. It is important to ensure that the Serbians cannot take for granted certain forms of policy, including inaction on the part of the international community. It is also not simply the policy of the United Kingdom or of any one country that matters. If we are to influence the Serbian Government's behaviour, it is crucial that they see that the international community continues to speak with a single voice so as to put the maximum pressure on that Government and to force a change of policy.

If, at this delicate moment in the development of policy, any one Government—especially the United States, France and the United Kingdom—made unilateral statements of the sort that my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup suggested, that would do a disservice to the cause of maintaining the maximum international pressure on the Serbian Government to achieve the policies that are vital if the fighting is to be brought to an end.

Of course I pay tribute to the sincerity with which the right hon. Member for Yeovil advances his proposals for safe havens and enclaves. No one can object in principle to the development of safe enclaves, if they are a practical proposition, but we should pay close attention to a remark by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). He told the right hon. Member for Yeovil that the 150 troops in Srebrenica are there only by the consent of the Serbian forces, who allow them to enter the city.

Essentially, the right hon. Member for Yeovil must realise that a policy of safe havens can operate only when a ceasefire has been agreed or if those who urge it are prepared to use force to impose it.

Mr. Ashdown

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He has been very generous. How does he account for the fact that a safe haven has been declared, not negotiated, by the United Nations in Zepa and Gorazde? May we take it from the Secretary of State's answer that as the UN has declared safe havens, the Government do not agree and are not prepared to support that declaration? I remind the Secretary of State that they were declared, not negotiated.

Mr. Rifkind

The UN has, of course, declared its desire to see those areas treated as safe havens to ensure the physical safety of those living there. We are having a practical discussion as to whether the use of force and

The right hon. Gentleman cannot escape from the fact that unless there is a ceasefire or the consent of the Serbian forces, unless he wishes to call for the use of force to impose a safe haven and if he wishes to call for the use of ground forces for that purpose—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has talked about air power. He must address himself to the fact that earlier he argued that ground forces should be used to achieve safe havens. He must appreciate the fact that without a vast increase in the number of forces on the ground, and without a commitment of the kind that would last many years and risk massive casualties, he is setting out a proposal that is impractical and unrealistic.

The Government will continue to use all the powers at our disposal to ensure a blockade of the Serbian Government and to ensure that other options are considered with the seriousness that they deserve. However, we owe it to the people of Bosnia not to bring forward proposals which are based on emotion and which are not justified by honest judgment of the practical way in which they would help the process of peace in Bosnia at the present time.

We do no service to the cause of peace by responding to arguments that are essentially based on a failure to realise the consequences that they would bring about.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.