§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Conway.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Before I call the Foreign Secretary, I must remind the House that Back-Bench speeches are restricted to 10 minutes.
§ 8.3 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Portillo)
The House will be familiar with the many tragic events that have led to the present crisis in the former Yugoslavia. Thousands of lives have been lost and countless families have been displaced. Night after night, we have witnessed harrowing scenes on our television sets. We are witnessing a bloody war, in part a civil war and in part a war of aggression. It is a characteristic of civil wars that civilised behaviour rapidly gives way to the basest of acts.
Like all civil wars, this one is extremely complex. It is not, simply, three distinct groups fighting it out. In some areas, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims are together opposed to Bosnian Serbs. In other areas, Bosnian Muslims have been fighting Bosnian Croats. In yet others, Bosnian Serbs have assisted Bosnian Muslims. In one way or another, all the parties have degraded themselves, and they have degraded humanity with the ferocity of their actions. No faction is blameless, but in the enclaves, the Serbs have behaved with a savagery that has appalled the world.
In the former Yugoslavia, we have seen European man at his absolute worst. All sides have been guilty of slaughter, rape and other atrocities. I said "European man", because this civil war is happening in Europe, and that is a fact that we cannot ignore. I wish to make it clear to the House that the Government believe that what happens in Europe touches on this country's vital national interests.
§ Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
The right hon. Gentleman said that it is partly a war of aggression and partly a civil war. He then went on to talk as though all the parties are equally guilty. Surely that is profoundly wrong. The Serbs are the aggressors, and they have been responsible for ethnic cleansing, the mass use of rape and torture and so on. To talk as though there were two equal sides is to distort the analysis from the very beginning of the debate.
§ Mr. Portillo
I do not think that the hon. Lady does justice to what I said. I said that there have been atrocities on every side, and also drew attention to the particular savagery of the Serbs which we have witnessed in the enclaves. The record will bear out that that is the way I expressed myself.
Into all this chaos, the United Nations is trying to bring succour, relief and sanity. What the United Nations cannot do is end this war by military means. In practice, it can be ended only by a political solution.
The United Nations and the European Union have toiled to achieve peace through diplomacy. A history of broken promises and broken ceasefires now lies behind us, but those efforts must continue. We firmly support the efforts of Carl Bildt, the European Union's negotiator, to negotiate a recognition of Bosnia by Serbia and 1741 Montenegro, and to reopen a dialogue on the contact group plan, which we urge all parties to accept as the starting point for negotiations.
The international community deployed forces to the former Yugoslavia for the best of all possible reasons. The world could not stand aside from the slaughter. Countries from around the globe have sent troops. Britain felt the call of duty particularly strongly. We are Europeans. We are members of the Security Council of the United Nations. We understand our obligation to defend our humanitarian values, and we are privileged to have superb armed forces.
There has been from the start a serious risk that this conflict could degenerate into a regional war, setting light to the Balkans and bringing into play highly dangerous international forces. The west has a vital interest in containing the conflict.
§ Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)
When I was studying history, it was always a maxim of British foreign policy that one did not get involved on the ground in a Balkan war. May I remind my right hon. Friend that Germany is not involved with troops on the ground? It is surely not in our interests to have our troops there. Many people in this country feel that we should bring them back forthwith.
§ Mr. Portillo
Germany is not a member of the Security Council of the United Nations; Britain is, and Britain feels her responsibilities acutely. As I shall point out to my hon. Friend, we are not in Bosnia to fight a war; we are there to save lives. That is the essential difference that my hon. Friend will, I hope, recognise. We have always seen that the United Nations is there to be the peacekeeper. Our forces are equipped not to make war but to move among the local population bringing food and medicine and confidence and security wherever we are able to do so.
UN forces in Bosnia are not a combatant force. We obviously cannot stop all the horrors, but that does not mean that we can do nothing. Indeed, we have achieved a great deal.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
Since the United Nations, NATO and the international community have vividly demonstrated their unwillingness and inability to intervene militarily in a way which would bring this war to an end, and as the Bosnian Government naturally resist a political settlement resting on genocide and territorial gains made by external military aggression, will the Secretary of State, who does not come to this issue with any political baggage, make it clear that it is now time for the arms embargo to be lifted and the Bosnian Government to be given the means to defend their people and their territory against external Serbian aggression?
§ Mr. Portillo
I shall come later to the question of the arms embargo, but I must say that I do not think that the hon. Gentleman speaks realistically. To bring this war to an end militarily would require the commitment of hundreds of thousands of men, equipment and armaments, at enormous risk to those forces. I do not believe that it is possible to commit those forces to this theatre.
Even if we did, our chances of success would be remote. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the only way that this war can end is by political settlement. But 1742 there is a two-pronged approach: a political approach to try to achieve a settlement, and military forces doing what they can to bring security as and when they can.
§ Mr. Davies
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the one thing that he cannot possibly do in this situation is respond to Bosnian Serb aggression against UN-designated safe areas with an ignominious retreat of our own forces? Does he agree that it is vital that we do nothing to undermine the credibility of NATO, the Western European Union, or, indeed, international law?
§ Mr. Portillo
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, because I shall of course come to those important matters, but I must do so as I make progress through my speech, and I must do so in a considered way, for reasons that will become clear.
§ Mr. Portillo
I want to make progress, but I said that I would give way to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone).
§ Mr. Livingstone
How will the Secretary of State explain to those outside this building, who see that the west mobilised hundreds of thousands of troops when its oil interests were threatened, that the Government are not prepared to take the same stand to stop the slaughter and mass rape of tens of thousands of ordinary people?
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Gentleman makes a comparison which has often been made before, but which none the less I regard as fatuous. In the case of the Gulf, we intervened because there was an aggressive nation on the loose that had attacked Kuwait and threatened the entire region. In Yugoslavia, we have positioned our troops to do what we can to bring peace and save lives, and that is a noble ambition.
§ Mr. Portillo
No, I am going to make some progress. I shall possibly give way later.
We have achieved a great deal, and the House should remember that.
Croatia and Serbia have not been at war since 1991. The Bosnian Federation of Croats and Muslims has brought peace to central Bosnia, which has witnessed the rebuilding of civil government and the return to normal life, where before there were scenes of slaughter. Tens of thousands of lives have been saved. In 1992, the Bosnian war claimed 130,000 lives. In 1994, that was reduced to 2,500.
Today, the UN provides support for 2.7 million people; 153,000 tonnes of aid were airlifted into Sarajevo between July 1992 and April 1995. British Royal Engineers have built 42 km of road, and they keep open nearly 1,000 km of supply routes. British troops have rebuilt kindergartens, restored essential services, and taught children how to look out for mines that, for years to come, may threaten to blow them to pieces. Fourteen British soldiers have died playing their part in this operation to save others' lives.
1743 For all our soldiers, peacekeeping brings not only danger but frustrations. We must operate with consent in a land of village apparatchiks, empire builders and local warlords. The peacekeeper must learn to negotiate without showing that frustration. But I flatly contradict those who claim that there is humiliation in what the British forces are doing. The saving of human life is noble and dignified, and I feel extraordinarily proud of the British men and women who have achieved so much.
§ Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme)
I am sure that the whole House shares the pride expressed by my right hon. Friend in the wonderful work done by British forces in Bosnia. However, given the peculiar responsibility of Her Majesty's Government, who sponsored UN resolution 836 to establish Gorazde as a safe haven, could he say whether, when that was done in the spring of 1993, it was our intention to take steps to make those safe areas safe, or was it just intended as a form of words?
§ Mr. Portillo
I am making a speech, and I have ordered my thoughts, as the hon. Gentleman should consider.
I shall come to the point that my hon. Friend raised, but I say to him now that the UN foresaw a need for 36,000 troops, and put out the request to the international community for them. In the event, 7,500 were forthcoming.
The deteriorating situation in Bosnia, especially after the taking of the hostages, showed that UN forces needed more protection. We sent artillery and armoured engineers immediately, and French forces and 24 Airmobile Brigade have followed.
I must make two points. First, there has been no change in the UN's mandate. The extra forces are not there to make war, any more than those who were there before them. Secondly, we remain bound by the need for consent for their arrival and deployments through Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. They are sovereign nations, and we are peacekeepers, not invaders.
At no time has the UN authorised its troops to fight a war; nor are they equipped to do so. Indeed, the UN has been under-resourced to achieve even those objectives authorised by the Security Council in its resolutions. As I have just told my hon. Friend, 36,000 troops were envisaged for the enclaves. The Dutch, the Ukrainians and the British responded, but the UN's request resulted in just those 7,500 troops being committed. The safe areas, like so much else, have depended on consent.
Srebrenica has now fallen. Zepa is under attack. Once more, the civilised world has been appalled by the barbarism in the Balkans. Once again, the UN has responded. They have built tented accommodation and provided basic services for 6,300 people at Tuzla air base. They have also organised logistic support for supplies to arrive from Split.
Our own special interest lies with Gorazde. We have there nearly 200 men of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. An UNPROFOR convoy with supplies for our troops got into Gorazde this afternoon. Like others in these operations, 1744 our soldiers are equipped with neither tanks nor artillery nor heavy arms. They are in Gorazde to play a humanitarian role.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
As a former member of a national service tank crew, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman does not think that it would be wise in the new circumstances to provide the Welch Fusiliers with some armoured cover, because in all that we were taught, armoured cover is essential in any dangerous situation?
§ Mr. Portillo
Again, the hon. Gentleman anticipates me; I am coming to that point in the immediate paragraphs that follow. [Interruption.] I repeat, I am coming to that point in the immediate paragraphs that follow.
Each of the options on Gorazde before the international community carries its own risks. To withdraw the troops would leave the Muslims in the enclaves at the mercy of the Bosnian Serbs, and would provoke resistance from the Muslims, who would claim a gross dereliction of duty. Reinforcing the troops poses significant practical problems. We do not have the men or the guns anywhere in former Yugoslavia to stave off a determined onslaught by many thousands of Bosnian Serbs.
The road from Sarajevo to Gorazde passes through hostile territory, and has 26 bridges and eight tunnels. It poses a hazardous route for reinforcement. To reinforce by helicopter carries possibly greater risks. The aircraft are vulnerable to attack unless air defences are destroyed by a massive pre-emptive attack, with all the risks of military escalation.
§ Mr. Portillo
Not at the moment.
The United Nations could use NATO to deploy its air power to deter or repel an attack, again with the risk of escalation. The Royal Welch Fusiliers have adequate supplies of fuel, food and water, and they are in good order. In its history, the regiment has proudly stood in many a perilous situation, and has emerged with honour. The safety and dignity of those men is of paramount importance to this country. I want to make it absolutely clear to the House that anyone who harms them will be held personally responsible by the Government of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Portillo
I will not give way.
None of the options on Gorazde that I have set out is appealing, but we must choose among them. The decision must be a joint one, involving the UN troop-contributing nations, NATO and the United States.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Is it not the case that the United Nations and NATO have at their command a decisive instrument, which is available and is within the theatre, yet not within the land mass of former Yugoslavia? I refer to their air power, which is off the coast and on Italian air bases. Cannot this be used if appropriate precautions are taken by the troops on the ground, both to deter future attacks on the safe havens and as a punitive reprisal to any barbaric acts of aggression by the Serbs? A civilised 1745 community has a duty to influence events within the theatre, and not just to let things slide down a slippery slope towards humiliation and withdrawal.
§ Mr. Portillo
I listed the options to the House, and I included in those options the use of air power. Now I shall explain why I did not want to be drawn on these matters earlier.
I have to be responsible about what I say about these matters. There are those who would like to know which way our minds are turning and we have to be very careful about what we say about these matters. Therefore, I have set out in my speech precisely what I want to say on these options, and I am not prepared, even in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), to be drawn any further on those options for our defence.
This Friday's conference in London has been convened by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to settle our common positions.
§ Mr. Faulds
I am most grateful for that reconsideration. Very courteous. The right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] If you will be quiet, you will hear what I have got to say. I do not mean you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the others. The right hon. Gentleman made the assertion a little earlier that the British troops in Yugoslavia had done a magnificent job. None of us disputes that. He said that there had been no humiliation of British troops. Will he maintain that, if British troops are driven out of Gorazde, the word "humiliation" will not apply to that operation?
§ Mr. Portillo
I have said what I am prepared to say about the military options. I have made it perfectly clear that the British Government will hold responsible any who harm our soldiers in Yugoslavia.
This Friday's conference in London has been convened by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister so that we may settle among the nations concerned our common positions. Since last Sunday, intensive discussions have been under way to establish the military options and more broadly to concert our policy on former Yugoslavia. I must attend a further meeting this evening in connection with those options, and I very much hope that the House will forgive me if I am not here throughout the debate.
In the run-up to Friday's meetings, I can think of nothing more unhelpful than to indulge in megaphone diplomacy. I will not do so. Nothing could be more dangerous for our men in Gorazde than to rehearse the detailed merits of the military options, or to strike public postures.
Friday's meeting must chart the way ahead, but I offer these thoughts. First, the United Nations went to Bosnia and Croatia to save lives. It has done so; it is doing it still. It is becoming more difficult now, but the United Nations 1746 should stay for as long as it can do good. This operation has to be conducted with some humility. Our first concern should be with saving lives. Secondly, the real focus is on the political process. The military operation can help the political process by offering security where a ceasefire is agreed, and it can buy time for the political process. To abandon the chance to buy time is a big step.
§ Mr. Portillo
Thirdly, withdrawal will have its consequences. It may be militarily hazardous, and it is likely to lead to a more intensive and possibly wider conflagration. The humanitarian disasters that lie ahead could dwarf the horrors that we have seen to date. The war could spread wide, posing unforeseeable threats to the near east and Europe, and so to British interests.
§ Mr. Portillo
Fourthly, we have often said that, if the arms embargo on Bosnia is lifted, the United Nations must withdraw. I reiterate that today. Equally, if the United Nations is obliged for any reason to withdraw, the United Kingdom will not oppose the lifting of the embargo.
The time is now ripe for decisions, for the warring factions to contemplate the stark reality of the withdrawal of the United Nations and for the nations involved in the peacekeeping operations in former Yugoslavia to decide on what terms they are willing to stay.
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)
This is the third occasion in three months when the House has debated Bosnia. Each time we debate Bosnia, the situation on the ground appears more grave. At the outset, I pay tribute to the courage and professionalism of the British troops who face the gravity of that crisis on the ground. Like the Defence Secretary, I have visited our forces in Bosnia and I was impressed by how, in a difficult situation, they maintained high standards of morale and of commitment to their job. If there have been failures in Bosnia, they are not failures that we can lay at the door of our troops. They are failures for which we and the other members of the international community must accept responsibility.
There have been failures. We do not do justice to the gravity of the crisis if we deny that there have been failures. The international community has failed the refugees of Srebenica to whom we gave a commitment that there would be a safe area. That was the first commitment to a safe area made in Bosnia and it was at Srebenica that that commitment was broken. If the reports on tonight's broadcasting media are correct, it looks as if we are about, in the same way, to fail the refugees of Zepa.
What has shocked many of our constituents is to see the photographs of the flood of survivors from Srebenica and to discover, two years after we had condemned the barbarity of ethnic cleansing, that it was being practised as brutally and callously as before, only this time, in areas that the United Nations had declared to be under its protection. This is not a failure for which we can pass the parcel of blame between the political parties. We all have a share in the responsibility for the failure of the international community.
1747 There was much in the Defence Secretary's speech with which I would agree. I particularly agree that it would be entirely wrong if we were now to turn the failure in Bosnia into a defeat by withdrawing in the face of that failure. There are more than 2 million civilians throughout Bosnia who depend on the UN presence for food and fuel in winter. The UN troops do more than simply provide escorts to allow that humanitarian relief to get through. The military has turned on the gas, electricity and water throughout central Bosnia. The military often even collects the rubbish in the towns. Civil society in much of present Bosnia under the present circumstances would collapse if the UN were to walk away.
There would be military consequences for the area if the UN were to withdraw. One of the major achievements of the UN presence in Bosnia was the negotiation of a ceasefire between Croat and Muslim forces in a conflict which—at the time—was providing more casualties than the war with the Serbs. That ceasefire is still policed by UN forces—particularly British forces—who daily still inspect the ceasefire line between the two forces. If the UN forces withdrew, there is a real danger that that ceasefire would rapidly unravel.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that whatever else may divide the House on party-political grounds, one thing that does unite us is the belief that British public opinion would not tolerate our troops in Gorazde being treated with contempt, brushed aside and disarmed so that humanitarian excesses may take place?
§ Mr. Cook
I wholly concur with the hon. Gentleman. British public opinion has been much more robust than some Members give credit for, and there is a willingness to see through the mandate. I also entirely agree that it does not serve the interests of our troops, this House, or the people of Bosnia, if we turn the issue into the kind of party-political dispute which it unfortunately appears to have become in Washington.
Withdrawal would have consequences of a profound character well beyond Bosnia. I find it difficult to see how we could contemplate withdrawing the UN presence from Bosnia without there being immediate demands for a withdrawal from Croatia. Such a withdrawal would leave the UN protected areas in Croatia unprotected and would reopen the prospect of President Tudjman renewing the military campaign against the Krajina Serbs. That would raise the danger of the restoration of a full-scale war between Serbia and Croatia, both of whom are—if anything—better armed than they were last time.
Nor would the consequences of withdrawal be confined to the Balkans. Throughout central and eastern Europe, there are many borders—mostly drawn on the map at Versailles in 1918—which divide ethnic communities from each other and throw together other ethnic communities. If Europe permits the borders of Bosnia to be redrawn by military force, we will send a profoundly destabilising message across central and eastern Europe. Moreover, if the consequences of abandoning Bosnia encourage conflict in any of those countries, there would be no UN expedition to contain such a conflict because, in the wake of a retreat from Bosnia, the UN may not have the authority to mount a similar peacekeeping exercise for a generation. That is what is at stake.
1748 Yesterday, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) addressed the House at Prime Minister's Question Time, he said that we have a duty to uphold the UN mandate. A number of Conservative Members interrupted at that point to say that we did not have that duty. Away from the more charged and partisan atmosphere of Prime Minister's questions, I hope those Members will reconsider their response. I must say that I agree with the Defence Secretary—we do have a national interest at stake in the Balkans. That national interest is in upholding the principle that borders must not be changed by force.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
Is not the point that Bosnia was a part of an internationally recognised country called Yugoslavia until just four years ago, when the international community chose arbitrarily to recognise it as an independent country against the wishes of a large number of its citizens?
§ Mr. Cook
One of the things that I have learnt in the past nine months is that if only one could go back to the appropriate point in history, it would be entirely possible to resolve the problems we face today. I would counsel the hon. Gentleman against saying that because the borders have existed for only four years, and are therefore not inviable. There are many borders across Europe which have been created in the past four to six years following the collapse of the Warsaw pact and the Soviet Union. Whatever doubts there may be about the wisdom of the original recognition of Bosnia, the fact is that it was recognised, and we cannot withhold from that recognised Government the right to inviable borders that we insist for ourselves and for any other independent country.
§ Mr. John Townend
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the borders of Croatia and Bosnia have been redrawn despite the presence of the United Nations? The UN has not prevented that from happening.
§ Mr. Cook
As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should now acquiesce to what military action has delivered to the Karadzic Serbs. My argument is that if we appease on this occasion, we will face similar problems across many parts of eastern Europe, and Members must not imagine that we can then stand back in isolation from those problems.
I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the Conservative party has a proud record of upholding that principle during the past 16 years it has held office, both in the south Atlantic and the Gulf. It would be perverse if this country were now not to uphold that same principle when it is challenged within Europe.
A commitment has been made by British forces in the fulfilment of the UN mandate in Bosnia. I find it a rather curious feature of some of the discussions about the crisis in Bosnia in the past few weeks that some people refer to the UN as if the UN were somebody else. They talk about the UN as if it were some other country, whose 1749 Government are to blame for the problem. The hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) did that himself, in a way, when he intervened a moment ago.
The UN is ourselves. It is made up of countries such as us. Indeed, Britain has a leading responsibility in the UN as a member of the Security Council. We ourselves supported in the Security Council the very mandates that we are now fulfilling within Bosnia. We cannot put ourselves forward as that leading member of the UN if we do not also accept the duty to fulfil the mandates.
If our commanders on the ground, of their own volition, were at any time to say that it was simply too dangerous for our troops to stay, there must be no alternative in the circumstances but for us to withdraw the troops. But those are the only circumstances in which we should abandon our mission in Bosnia. Those who demand withdrawal in any other circumstances must ask what message that would convey to the Karadzic Serbs. I may say here that I hope throughout to refer to what are commonly called the Bosnian Serbs as the Karadzic Serbs. There are many Serbs who support the Government of Bosnia, and there are some Serbs in Pale who do not support Karadzic.
I submit that the message we are in danger of sending to the Karadzic Serbs by talking of withdrawal is that if they apply a little more pressure, we will pack up and get out of the way. If I am right, the demands for withdrawal do not serve the interests of our troops there, but make it all the more likely that they will come under that extra pressure.
Our response to the setbacks in Bosnia should not be to accept defeat and pull out, but to show a new determination to carry out the UN mandate. Two months ago, the international community demonstrated unity and resolve in demanding freedom for the UN troops taken hostage. We must now show the same unity and resolve in delivering freedom from fear and oppression to Bosnia's civilians. The fate of the eastern enclaves raises doubts about the resolve of the international community, and doubts will have been raised in the minds of the Bosnian Government and the Karadzic Serbs.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I know that he wants to make progress. He advanced a powerful argument for delivering an ultimatum to the aggressors—in this instance, those whom he has described as the Karadzic Serbs. What if that ultimatum is not accepted? Does it follow that one of two things must then happen? Must we be prepared to support such an ultimatum militarily? Failing that, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the alternative is to give the numerous troops on the ground—the Bosnian Government troops, that is—an opportunity to support the ultimatum by allowing them to arm themselves with heavy weapons?
§ Mr. Cook
I am at one with the Secretary of State for Defence on the question of lifting the arms embargo. I see no way of lifting the embargo without immediately pulling out the United Nations presence, with all the consequences that I have just paraded before the House. As the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue, let me take 1750 this opportunity to issue a plea to the United States Congress not to make such a decision, and in particular not to make it unilaterally. Unilateral action by the United States to lift the arms embargo would have profound consequences not only for Bosnia and the United Nations presence there, but for the legitimacy of United Nations resolutions on any conflict around the world that the United States had chosen to set aside.
I said earlier that some hard questions must be answered. The first is this: was there no intelligence warning of the attack on Srebrenica? Those of us who saw the photographs of the attack noted that it involved heavy artillery attacks. Did no one observe the build-up? If we knew that an attack was coming, why was the Dutch garrison at Srebrenica left at half strength? Why was there no formal protest of the kind that the Secretary of State has just made, with a warning to Mr. Karadzic? Why was there no attempt to involve President Milosevic in pressure to make the attackers back off?
It is reported that the Dutch troops requested close air support, and that their request took four days to process in Zagreb. That suggests that the pace of bureaucratic decision-making in Zagreb is wholly out of step with the urgency of the military conflict on the ground. If our response is to be more robust, and if the dual-key mechanism is to continue in its present form, we must ask whether the current UN civilian leadership is capable of the response—and the speed of response—that the military requires.
Of immediate concern to the House and the British people are the hard questions that now arise over Gorazde and the safety of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and other units of the British forces in that town—and also the safety of the tens of thousands of civilian refugees whom it is their mission to protect. The gravity and isolation of their position is underlined by the fact that in the past 24 hours they have found themselves protecting Ukrainian troops who were themselves there as part of the UN protection force.
I understand that the situation in Gorazde is now serious. Only one food convoy has gone through in the past seven weeks. The function of our troops was to observe whether the two sides were adhering to the observance of the safe area; for the past two months they have been unable to man the observation posts lest they themselves be seized as hostages. The danger is that the entire contingent will, in effect, become hostages as a result of being based in a camp at the bottom of a valley ringed by Serb artillery.
In those circumstances, I find it puzzling that over the past week it has been the French Government who have demanded the strengthening of the British garrison, while British Ministers have explained the difficulties in the way. Having heard the Defence Secretary rehearse those difficulties, I must ask why we have had British troops in such an isolated and exposed position for a year with, apparently, no prior contingency planning of what practical means could be used to strengthen their position if they came under threat—particularly in a conflict such as this. There is ample historical reason for suspecting that- the Karadzic Serbs would not remain committed to the paper undertaking that they gave not to attack.
§ Mr. Redwood
What is the hon. Gentleman's message to the Royal Welch Fusiliers in Gorazde, and what action does he recommend to strengthen their position or provide them with additional cover?
§ Mr. Cook
The message from the House to the Royal Welch Fusiliers is that they have our full support for their mandate and their mission. Our second message must be to the Government—that every possible practical means must be found to strengthen the position of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
The right hon. Gentleman's intervention brings me conveniently to my next point. If the Government have no practical means of reinforcing the garrison, I hope that there are contingency plans to remove the soldiers from Gorazde if they cannot sustain their position. If reports that that is being examined are correct, I hope that withdrawal will be accompanied by an agreement allowing the orderly evacuation of refugees, so that the refugees in Gorazde are not abandoned—like those in Srebrenica—to the mercy and charity of the Karadzic Serbs.
I want to raise a final issue about the military position. It arises from our last debate, when the Prime Minister announced the establishment of the rapid reaction force and presented it as a new capacity for the United Nations protection force.
§ Mr. Cook
No. I said that I had given way for the last time; many hon. Members wish to speak, and I am anxious to make progress.
As I was saying, the Prime Minister presented the rapid reaction force as a means for the United Nations protection force to protect itself. It may well be that the relief of Gorazde is not an appropriate or realistic mission for the rapid reaction force, but it must be able to make some useful contribution to the deteriorating military situation in Bosnia. After all, we have an obligation to Sarajevo, which is now receiving one sixth of the amount of food that it requires.
I noticed yesterday that the Prime Minister did not rule out the use of that force to secure a land route into Sarajevo. If that is militarily feasible, I urge the Government to issue a valuable signal to residents of Sarajevo who are under siege that there is material assistance for them, and a clear signal to the Karadzic Serbs that the international community has the will to enforce the UN mandate where it has the capacity. That would also help to dispel some of the accusations that the rapid reaction force is little in evidence in Bosnia, because its real purpose is not to strengthen the UN presence but to assist in the removal of that presence.
The really worrying issue is that we have already committed a large quantity of our troops to the Bosnian theatre with no clear idea of what they are meant to do, and without the capacity to carry out much of what we ask of them. That is unfair to our troops and damaging to the UN, whose authority is diminished as a result. It also encourages the Serbs every time they discover that we have not the capacity to deliver on our threats or fulfil our promises.
1752 Our future strategy in Bosnia—for I believe that we must remain in Bosnia—should include four guidelines. First, we should clarify what are the feasible military objectives, and ensure that we provide the military assets to achieve those objectives. Equally, we must ensure that we do not make commitments to objectives that we do not regard as militarily feasible. Secondly, we must show resolve in securing the objectives that we define as achievable. It would therefore be helpful if those who speculate about what those objectives might be did not in the same breath speculate about the possibility of withdrawal.
Thirdly, we must back every possible diplomatic and economic sanction to oblige the parties to the dispute to reach a political settlement. In view of clear evidence over the past two months of the support that President Milosevic has given the Karadzic Serbs, there must be no more talk in the immediate future of relaxing sanctions on Serbia. That does not mean that we should not be prepared to lay on the table now a programme of economic reconstruction for the post-war period, which might help to concentrate the minds of those in the Balkans on the enormous destruction and lost opportunities that the conflict has cost the economy.
That brings me to my final guideline. As well as containing the military expression of ethnic hostility, the international community should engage more actively in the propaganda war that manipulates that hostility.
The control of national television and press gives Presidents Milosevic and Tudjman weapons more powerful than their tanks or aircraft. The people of Serbia have never seen the candid pictures that we have of the horrors done in the name of greater Serbia in Srebrenica because, the night after that event, the news was filled with a half-hour bulletin about the record harvest in Serbia, with President Milosevic gathering it at the wheel of a combine harvester. That totalitarian control of the media is part of the reason why nationalist politicians can prolong the war, regardless of the cost to their people.
Some progress towards increasing the pressures for peace might come if a modest fraction of our effort in former Yugoslavia went into providing and supporting access to alternative pluralist news media.
There is one central message which it could offer to the peoples and the politicians of former Yugoslavia. That is that, in disappearing into their own history in search of justification for present hatreds, they are turning their back on the Europe of the future. The modern Europe is about bringing down barriers, building bridges on the economic ties that cross ethnic and cultural divisions. What is happening in the former Yugoslavia is a challenge to the values of that new Europe, to equal democratic rights, to religious tolerance, to ethnic pluralism—values which are not the monopoly of any party in the House, but are common to both sides of the House.
That is why we cannot walk away from Bosnia; not only because to do so would be to abandon civilians there to humanitarian catastrophe, but because to do so would be to walk away from our own values. There must be no doubt about our commitment to those values and that is why, in Bosnia, we should take every practical step to support and defend those values.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I remind hon. Members that all speeches are now restricted to 10 minutes, with the exception of that of the official spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.
§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Witney)
The last occasion on which the House discussed Bosnia was when my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made a statement a week ago. Some of the press reported critically on the exchanges across the Floor of the House that followed. I thought that those exchanges reflected reality, as have both the speeches to which the House has just listened.
The House feels very strongly about Bosnia but, with relatively few exceptions, it discusses Bosnia now with a very bitter sense of realism. In that, I believe that it is in tune with the view of the public in the country, perhaps more than some of the comments in the media.
Everyone who has followed this tragedy from the beginning, or has come to it lately, feels distressed, angered and frustrated by the suffering that we are now witnessing again. Everyone can now see that that is largely the responsibility of the Bosnian Serbs. I think that, overwhelmingly, people believe that Britain should, with others, do what we realistically can to soften that suffering and bring about a settlement.
We know that all, or almost all, those who are fighting in Bosnia have homes in Bosnia because they are Bosnian Serbs or Bosnian Croats or Bosnian Muslims. That is to say, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said, we are dealing with, essentially, a harsh civil war, originally supported from outside, with confused fighting lines, in which cruelties and lies abound.
No solution can be imposed from outside except in one circumstance—except if we had sent a large international army on what would have been, essentially, an imperial mission, to fight, to take casualties week by week in those mountains and valleys and to stay indefinitely while the solution that we had imposed took hold.
Many commentators in many countries have overflowed with rhetoric, as though it were because of a failure of the international community that that has not happened. But the House knows that no single country has at any time suggested that that could, or should, be done. What has been much more commonly expressed is the idea that a total answer could have been achieved by lesser military means. I believe that that is, frankly, flannel.
§ Ms Short
Is not the problem the pretence that we must choose between an all-out ground war and no use of force at all? Could not the UN have used force defensively, to protect the safe areas, to get the supplies through? That is the failure, and I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman is partially responsible for it.
§ Mr. Hurd
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has discussed that argument. Resolution 836 and, indeed, the earlier one on Srebrenica, established safe areas and appealed for troops, which were not then forthcoming, to deal with them. I do not believe that any shame attaches to this country because, as my right hon. Friend said, we were one of the three countries that responded specifically to that request.
1754 However, I am discussing the belief that the hon. Lady has often expressed—the idea that, somehow, by lesser military means than the total imperial mission, peace with justice could have been achieved by a few bombs in a few weeks, by a little extra equipment for the Bosnian Government, by a few extra million dollars. I really believe that that is flannel.
§ Mr. Hurd
No. I have only a short time and I have given way once. I would rather get on and conclude.
There is a role for air power, as Her Majesty's Government have acknowledged for two years now, and in the next few weeks there may well again be a role for air power to deter Bosnian Serb attacks on Gorazde or Sarajevo. But I do not believe that it is possible, from the air, to bomb the Bosnian Serbs into coming to the conference table and reaching a peaceful settlement.
However, although most people in this country accept that we cannot do everything, they do not go on to conclude that we should do nothing. They support the substantial efforts that we have made—perhaps more pre-eminently than any other country, counting the aid as well as the military side—and want that effort to continue for as long as it can. As long as it can, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that is the rub.
I conclude with two short points about that. I believe that the next two or three months may be the climax in deciding whether it can. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said, UNPROFOR depends on a minimum of consent which does not at present exist. If there is no substantial improvement, we may, by the test of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook)—by the judgment of our military commanders—have to withdraw.
I have felt, for a bit now, that it might be right to be a little more specific about that, and to say that, unless specific improvements on the ground are achieved, unless consent is restored, it might well be the judgment of our military commanders that we could not continue. UNPROFOR might then have to withdraw. I believe that then the arms embargo would have to be lifted; the logic of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said about that is clear.
I do not believe that either side really wants to be left alone with the other side in that bloodstained cockpit, knowing that their opponents—and that would be true of both sides—would be able to draw indefinitely on the very large quantities of weapons that are available in a world awash with arms.
I understand the operational difficulties of withdrawal, as I am sure does the House. A scheme for withdrawal that involves introducing a large North Atlantic Treaty Organisation force to help the withdrawal of a relatively smaller United Nations force will have a seismic effect on the ground, on the region. It will powerfully change the position in a way that military planners, whether in Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe or in London, cannot be sure of in advance.
Unless circumstances can be improved—unless the minimum consent can be restored—withdrawal may be inevitable because, in the judgment of military commanders, the force could not continue. That is not 1755 inevitable, but it is a real danger, and I believe that we can use that real danger to bring about the improvements that are necessary.
I conclude by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on his appointment, on the speed with which he has visited the troops in Bosnia and on the admirable and effective speech that he has just made.
Some speak as though there were some system of international order which already exists, some glass palace of peace which has already been built and which is being shattered by what is happening in Bosnia or in west Africa or the former Soviet union, where similar horrors are occurring. But there is no such thing. There is no new international order. Man's cruelty to man continues; the tragedies multiply. What does happen is that people try to avert the tragedies, try to prevent them and, when they occur, try to reduce them.
Some of those efforts succeed. They have succeeded in Namibia, they have succeeded in Mozambique, and they have partly succeeded in Cambodia. Some fail, such as in Somalia and Rwanda. Bosnia now hangs in the balance, unfortunately tilting the wrong way. On many occasions, Britain does not and should not take part; we cannot be even a part policeman everywhere. But sometimes it is right to join in the effort, as we did in Rwanda and as we are doing in Angola and in Bosnia. I am sure that it is right that we should do so for as long as that is possible, but I think that we should use the possibility of withdrawal to secure that minimum of agreement on the ground that would enable us to continue.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
I shall address my brief remarks to the situation in Gorazde, where one of my constituents has a son serving with the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
Despite what we have heard today, I do not know whether the House is fully aware of the real danger facing the 200 Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Ukrainian contingent in Gorazde. The British contingent has a Bosnian Serb military force at the front gate. In its garden, which is a Bosnian Muslim hinterland, there are Bosnian Muslim forces. It has been said—I do not know whether it is correct—that attempts have been made to mine the area behind the British contingent to prevent its withdrawing into the hinterland. There are also reports that there may be an ammunition factory in the hinterland producing weapons and armaments.
Gorazde is situated in a valley and is therefore surrounded by hills. There is little or no protection from the air and the 200 Royal Welch Fusiliers have very light armaments. The Secretary of State mentioned a convoy that had gone through recently, but there have been very few convoys in the past few weeks. They are dependent, probably entirely, on the consent and the permission of the Bosnian Serbs. As I discovered from meeting the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the contingent must take its drinking water from the river Drina and that water must be purified. Getting in food parcels and letters is also dependent on the consent of the Bosnian Serbs.
As we know, the tour of duty comes to an end in early September. Britain has provided three tours of duty in Gorazde and it was hoped that the next would fall to the 1756 Ukrainian forces. It seemed that the Ukrainians were keen and happy to do that. However, I no longer think that that is the position in view of what the Bosnian Muslims are reported to have done to the Ukrainian soldiers, including taking their commander hostage and threatening him perhaps even with death. To leave Gorazde in September would again require the consent and the permission of the Bosnian Serbs. That might be forthcoming, but the Bosnian Muslims may have something to say about it also.
The stark reality is that 200 British troops are trapped: they cannot go forwards and they cannot go back. They have very few resources with which to defend themselves, they are vulnerable from the air and they are surrounded by two warring armies. There is the added danger that NATO will decide to bomb in the vicinity in an attempt to deter the Bosnian Serbs from attacking.
When this wretched war is over, perhaps some questions will be asked—such as, who put British soldiers in such a vulnerable position? They are highly trained soldiers from what is probably one of the best armies in the world. They are not peace corps volunteers. If they are put in danger—that is the nature of soldiering—we owe it to them at least to ensure that their orders are based on a rational and sensible military assessment of the dangers that they face.
We face an extremely difficult position and there are no glib answers. The Secretary of State mentioned some of the options. First, we could do nothing. We could wait, and perhaps the Bosnian Serbs might not attack. The British contingent could then leave in early September as planned. I do not know whether the Bosnian Serbs would allow our soldiers to leave. Perhaps they would. I do not know whether the Bosnian Muslims would allow them to leave. There is also a possibility of air strikes. I do not know whether that is a real option.
Secondly, there is the question of reinforcements. I suppose that it would be possible—although the Secretary of State poured cold water on the idea—to fly in a large number of troops in Black Hawk helicopters. They also would be very vulnerable and I do not know how many troops would be needed. Even if they could be brought in, they would still have to receive food and water. The logistic problems would still have to be solved and the troops would still face the possibility of spending a long Balkan winter with the Bosnian Serbs at the gate.
Thirdly, we could sit down now and attempt to negotiate with the Serbs—and, I suppose, with the Bosnian Muslims—the removal of the 200 British troops. I do not know whether that is feasible, but the consequences of that option would be quite considerable for the entire strategy in the eastern enclaves and Sarajevo.
It would be silly to pretend that there are easy answers or easy solutions. I simply ask the Secretary of State for an assurance that the welfare of British troops will be considered to be as important as the legitimate interests and welfare of other people in the Bosnian theatre of war. If our forces are asked to engage in dangerous movements or manoeuvres, their orders must be based on a proper military assessment and not upon some grand gesture designed to save the face of international bureaucrats or politicians.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
At the outset of the debate we heard two very fine speeches from either side of the House. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the new 1757 Secretary of State for Defence on what he had to say. It was a very fitting beginning to his time in that high office. He comes to this problem at what appears to be the final part of a miserable series of developments, with the overrunning of Srebrenica, the imminent overrunning of Zepa and great fears among many people that the worst is yet to come.
My hon. Friend said not to press him about what might be done to prevent those gloomy predictions from becoming reality; and we must not press him. However, his comments gave me new confidence that there may be ways of ensuring that Sarajevo is not strangled and that perhaps Gorazde can be saved from the ghastly horrors and tragedies that we have seen in Srebrenica and that we are now seeing in Zepa. Let us not press my right hon. Friend tonight, but let us be confident that he will, and must, find ways of stabilising the short-term situation and preventing a repetition of the miseries of the past few days.
The United Nations has a mandate to protect the enclaves. Of course, that cannot be done against a massive and determined assault by thousands of the enemy—that would be impossible. But a serious attempt can be made to fulfil that mandate and to hold the further enclaves by getting reinforcements there in one way or another. I believe that that can be done. When it is, I hope that it will be done with the consensual support of the other major allies, possibly including the Russians. Certainly the Americans will have to decide between their two policies—the one on Capitol hill and the other in the White House—because one way or the other, the Americans will be drawn into events if the situation is to be stabilised.
My plea concerns not so much the short term. We have all seen the agonies and have armchair recipes, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has to bear the brunt with his other Ministers and with their opposite numbers in allied countries. My plea is that anything that we do to stabilise the short-term situation, to halt the terrifying sense of drift, is combined and interlocked with a new medium-term strategy, to prevent finding ourselves in a similar situation again—that despite a mass of good intentions, we are in an even worse position than now.
The new strategy—which must be intertwined with what is done now, whatever is being planned—should incorporate two vital, realistic elements. I do not want to see the UN humiliatingly withdraw totally. I am uneasy with the language that says that there is an absolute choice between staying and fighting and total withdrawal. The UN has done brilliant work throughout the world. It is doing brilliant work in Bosnia, although we do not hear much about it, in saving lives and safeguarding convoys. It was not necessary to send vast armies into Ethiopia to start to save lives there. I do not know whether Angola is coming right, but the UN did not send vast armies in there. There were a lot of troops in Cambodia, but a lot of work was done. As the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) rightly said, the UN is only the sum of its parts. It does not exist as an entity in space.
The UN, through the support of its members, has done good work and there remains an agenda for United Nations personnel—civilians and the brave blue-helmeted soldiers who protect them—in the Bosnian and Balkan region. Having said that, I would not want to see a complete withdrawal. One is obviously vulnerable to the argument, "In that case, are you asking the UN forces to stay to do a job that they have not succeeded in doing?" They have not 1758 maintained the safety of the safe enclaves. They have been unable, because they are unequipped, to defend and to fulfil the trust placed in them by the wretched and tragic refugees of whom we have all seen pictures.
There must be yet another part to the strategy but it is not one that yet carries my right hon. Friend, although I drew some hope from his remarks. That part has not carried hitherto the grandee policymakers of Paris and London or the White House—although it has received almost too vigorous support in the US Congress. If we cannot provide the forces on the ground to halt the atrocities and violence of the Bosnian Serbs as they fulfil the Greater Serbia agenda, which they are determined to do, we must examine gradually and carefully, perhaps not overnight, the forces who could do that job but have been denied the weapons so far. I refer of course to the Bosnian presidency troops, who outnumber the Bosnian Serbs two to one. They are excellent fighters but at this moment do not even have enough bullets, let alone heavy weapons, to defend themselves. They do not have the trucks to deploy their forces in such a way as to add to their current desperate efforts to save Sarajevo from total starvation and strangulation.
Parallel with the saving and, I hope, holding of Gorazde—and beyond that the dignified withdrawal in due course of UN troops—should go not merely a reluctant recognition that the embargo must be lifted if we pull out, as my right hon. Friend said. I differ with him. Together with the pattern of holding Gorazde and Sarajevo in the short term must go a medium-term intention to ensure that the Bosnian presidency—the legitimate army of the legitimate Government of that hapless country—has the weapons, and maybe in due course the artillery and tanks, to defend itself. Back always comes the pat reply, "That will mean a vast escalation of the war."
That cliché gets traded around, but it has not been carefully examined. If Bosnian Serb force were met with force, I wonder whether the Bosnian Serbs would not immediately realise that the time for easy games—for walking into towns and murdering Bosnians, and the rest—is over. They would face a determined enemy and there would be a kind of stalemate. Of course it would be a bloody stalemate, but we are seeing that already. Of course it would be difficult. Of course it would be a brave decision, but there might come a morning when the two sides would say, "For neither of us is it worth fighting on. For both of us it is worth sitting down and negotiating. However agonising the negotiation and the partitioning, we must sit down and negotiate." If we go along the path that I indicated, that point could be reached.
We must we ensure that any winding down of the UN's activities is accomplished with dignity. We must ensure that UN civilian and some military operations remain, to save lives in the area. We should not just petulantly withdraw everything. Finally, beyond that withdrawal with dignity or winding down, we let the Bosnian presidency troops and the presidency government have the right and the dignity to defend themselves to show the Bosnian Serbs that there can be no winner and that they should stop the killing and negotiate. That is not only the best. way forward but, I believe, the way that events will dictate. I believe that there are no other options. Although we talk grandly of options, there is only the path that I have described, and that is the one that statesmen should now pursue.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
Like the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), I have some sympathy with the restraint that the Secretary of State for Defence displayed in deliberately avoiding enumerating the possible military options. As I think he said, at least by implication, to do so might be to provide information of advantage to those against whom some of the options might in due course be exercised.
With all due deference to the Secretary of State, the debate takes place to some extent in a vacuum. At the end of our deliberations we shall take no decisions. We all know, however, that even as we conduct the debate serious decisions may well be taken in Washington, where the Foreign Secretary has gone to have discussions with the United States Government and, I hope, with members of Congress, although some of the press reports suggest that he may find that a little more difficult than perhaps he would wish.
The debate takes place to some extent in the abstract. The fact that the Foreign Secretary has felt it necessary to go to Washington—I make no criticism of that because I believe that his judgment was correct—serves only to underline something which we have seen in the history of events in the former Yugoslavia over the past two or three years. It is that where the United Nations seeks to embark on a major operation without the wholehearted support, political and military, of the United States, its activities are necessarily inhibited. Some of us may not like that but the events of the past two or three years demonstrate it eloquently to be the case.
What else do the events of the past two or three years tell us? They tell us—I suspect that this is a lesson not yet learnt—that it is necessary to establish clear political objectives and then to provide sufficient military resources if we wish to implement Security Council resolutions.
If the strategy has been one of containment, that strategy has succeeded to some extent. We are obliged to ask ourselves, however, how long that will be the position. If events continue to take their present course, can the relative calm in Kosovo and Macedonia be maintained? If the strategy has been to feed as many people as possible, that strategy too has substantially succeeded. That is especially so in central Bosnia. If the strategy was to drive the participants back to negotiation, we would be right to acknowledge that it has been a comprehensive failure. Why has that been so?
We can track through the history of this matter and the path of the international community a lack of resolve that almost month by month, and sometimes week by week, has done nothing to increase the willingness of the Bosnian Serbs, or the Karadzic Serbs as perhaps we may now call them, to take advantage and to call the bluff, if we like, of the UN.
The House will recall that we declared a no-fly zone. It was several months, however, before we put aircraft over the former Yugoslavia to enforce it. I understand that combat air patrols are no longer being flown over the land mass of the former Yugoslavia, although they may be still be being flown over the Adriatic. We declared an arms embargo, but it was more than six months before there was an adequate fleet in the Adriatic to seek to enforce it.
1760 Already, in the course of the debate, we have heard cries of withdrawal. I wonder how many people who cry for withdrawal have actually been to the former Yugoslavia and made any effort to assess precisely what would be involved in withdrawal. It is a country which consists, as many will know, of a lot of valleys with poor roads at the bottom of deep slopes. The idea that there is some easy withdrawal to be effected in a matter of a few weeks frankly does not stand up to even a moment's consideration if one has regard to the country's geography.
If we were to withdraw, there would be damage to the reputation of the United Nations. Some have rightly talked of the long-term consequences of withdrawal. In my judgment, however, that would be nothing compared with the short-term risk to the civilians who occupy the former Yugoslavia, and Bosnia in particular. Which of us believes that, if there was a withdrawal, hostilities would cease?
As I believe is now generally acknowledged—the Secretary of State said so expressly—if there is a withdrawal there would be no legitimacy in seeking to maintain the arms embargo. A stalemate may well come about, as the right hon. Member for Guildford said a moment ago, but one must have regard to what the consequences and circumstances would be from the moment of withdrawal and the lifting of the arms embargo until the point at which that stalemate was achieved. I beg to suggest that those consequences and circumstances might be very severe and damaging indeed.
Then we must ask ourselves: what purpose can be served by the United Nations remaining in the former Yugoslavia? Like others, I have used the illustration from time to time, that the relative calm and the return, albeit grudgingly and with difficulty, to normality in central Bosnia continues to provide a rationale for our remaining. But I begin to doubt if that is enough.
With regard to Zepa, one must be blunt. There seems little enthusiasm for or prospect of Zepa being successfully defended against a Bosnia Serb advance if that is what they choose to do. As to Gorazde, I do not—nor, I suspect, do any of us except those sitting on the Treasury Bench—have access to sufficiently adequate intelligence and information to determine whether Gorazde can be defended. Even if we were to decide that it could be defended, we would have to ask ourselves the subordinate questions: does that defence apply only to the United Nations forces who are there or, if we were talking about the defence of Gorazde, do we mean that we will defend any civilians who may find themselves under attack as well?
I do not yet hear or understand there to be any clarity in a decision of that kind. It could be argued that the mere fact of sending large numbers of troops to Gorazde, whether by helicopter or otherwise—I suspect by helicopter only because, since the road from Kisseljak to Gorazde is substantially in Bosnian Serb hands, helicopters are probably the only means of doing so—would be deterrent enough. Like other hon. Members, however, I do not have the information which would allow me to reach a certain judgment on that matter. I therefore ask myself again: what is there that we can do that we can have some assurance about?
We can say that we will not allow Sarajevo to be strangled and that we will open and maintain, with military means if necessary, a route for humanitarian 1761 relief over Mount Igman to Sarajevo. I say that for the obvious self-evident reason that we cannot have the strangulation of that city, with all the consequences for the people who live there.
The second and perhaps more long-term element of that is to say that that would show in a dramatic and forceful way that the United Nations is possessed of resolve in these matters and that where it is militarily possible it is prepared to take steps in order to ensure that the resolutions by which its presence in the former Yugoslavia is justified can be implemented robustly.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. and learned Gentleman talks about military means to keep a road open. What is his estimate of the size of that military means and would it involve arming?
§ Mr. Campbell
On the issue of armour, I do not think that there is any doubt that it would be difficult to transport it over Mount Igman, not least because one would have to bring it up by road from Split. But I am satisfied that the rapid reaction force, properly deployed—particularly its first element which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, contains artillery—plus the full repertoire of NATO air power, would be sufficient to keep open such a route were it to be established for humanitarian purposes. I have some corroboration for that as that view has been expressed on a number of occasions in the recent past. From conversations that I have had, I believe that that view carries a certain amount of authority among those who may be responsible for making the ultimate decision.
Some say that we should not do any of those things and continue to fulfil what is sometimes called, rather inelegantly but perhaps very descriptively, the muddling-through option. The muddling-through option will inevitably lead to withdrawal and it offers no clear policy objectives. It puts our forces on the ground in an impossible position—one that will be increasingly untenable. In that connection, I think that the House would want to know, within the constraints that the Secretary of State suggested at the outset, the precise role of the rapid reaction force. What are its terms of reference at this moment and what will its rules of engagement be in general terms? When may we expect it to be fully deployed and operational?
Phrases such as "defining moment" and "turning point" have been used so often in the descriptions of what is taking place in the former Yugoslavia that they have lost their ordinary meaning. But one can say without over-dramatising the situation that the future course of events in the former Yugoslavia may depend acutely on the decisions taken in the next few days. More than that, those decisions may signally affect the relationship between Europe and the United States of America and may signally determine the credibility of the United Nations in a post-cold-war world.
The resolutions of the Security Council can be enforced in a restrained way or in a robust way. Until now, the policy has been to show restraint, but I do not believe that that restraint has brought the international community—or, more importantly, the people of Bosnia—much satisfaction. The chilling image of the 20-year-old girl, anonymous and alone, who hanged herself out of desperation and hopelessness should haunt us all. That image should not drive our policies, but it should remind us of what the consequences of our policies may be.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
I shall begin with some brief congratulations. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who made an excellent and perceptive speech. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. We all understand why he is not here now. Again, I was much impressed with what he had to say. May I also say how nice it is to see my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) on the Front Bench in his new post as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I look forward to his, I trust, robust reply to the debate.
I am glad that the summit is to take place on Friday. I have made about a dozen speeches on this appalling situation over the past three and a half to four years and, in the past 18 months, I have called many times for a summit. I would, admittedly, prefer it to be at head of state level, but the fact that a specific summit is being called with this subject as the sole item on the agenda gives me some encouragement. It gives me encouragement that, at long last, a more co-ordinated, cohesive, united and resolute approach is on the cards.
The sad, deplorable story of the past three and a half years has not been one of the failure of British troops. Their bravery is unsurpassed, and we all rightly pay tribute to them every time we debate this subject. No one seeks to criticise—I certainly do not—the motives or credentials of our Government or the Opposition. But I have often been haunted by the remarks of Edmund Burke who said in this place so long ago that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. I do not suggest that good men have done nothing, but it is manifestly clear that they have not done enough.
The hon. Member for Livingston, who spoke for the Opposition, did not seek to absolve himself of a degree of culpability, and in that he spoke for us all. The honour of the House is at stake far more than it was in the debate that we had earlier today. It is crucial that this situation in the centre of Europe does not become a cauldron that boils over into a European conflagration. That remains just as much a possibility as it did in the early hours of that December morning in 1991 when I drew a Consolidated Fund debate on the situation in the former Yugoslavia, and for the first time the House turned its attention to that.
I am sorry that the former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) is not in the Chamber. He spoke about there being no new world order. We accept that, but it is no excuse for not seeking to build one upon Europe's disintegrating old order. That is absolutely essential.
The hon. Member for Livinston was right when he spoke about the signals that will go out if the Yugoslavian situation results in ultimate disaster. A number of us have made similar observations in the past. Irrespective of whether it develops into full-scale war, drawing in America and Russia backing opposite sides, those signals will be a recipe for international anarchy. Without the rule of law in a country there is no civil order, and without international law and respect for it, there can only be international anarchy.
1763 We have agonised in public for far too long about the difficulties. Of course, whatever course is adopted is fraught with risks—far more so now than it would have been if those air and naval patrols had been put in when Dubrovnik was being shelled. The risks have increased as vacillation has led to the Serbs calling people's bluff time and again.
Let us consider for a moment what we are debating. President Milosevic has publicly repudiated Karadzic. He has not done enough, and there is much more that he can should do before there is any question of lifting sanctions. But he has dissociated himself from the activities of the Karadzic Serbs.
It has been said often recently in the House that the Karadzic Serbs—I think that I was the first to use that specific term—do not represent the whole Serbian population of Bosnia-Herzegovina: far from it. At most they represent possibly 50 per cent. and probably fewer. That is the group of people we are debating. They have in effect declared war on the United Nations. That is what has happened. It is not a question of embarking on a war or throwing our weight around in that sense, but of the United Nations not allowing its mandates to be set at naught by a gang of brigands.
We must therefore display determination and resolution. It must be made absolutely plain to Karadzic that Gorazde will not fall, and that Sarajevo will be relieved. Not a hair on a single Serbian head needs to be touched, but should they persist in their appalling actions and attitude, punitive action will be taken from the air and elsewhere. Of course it was right for the Secretary of State for Defence to be vague on that subject—one does not announce in advance precisely what one is going to do.
There must be no doubt in the Karadzic Serb mind that the international community means business and is not going to see its rule flouted in this appalling way by those who have despoiled villages and towns, raped women and caused mayhem.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) spoke about the lifting of the arms embargo. It has always been morally indefensible to have recognised a sovereign state, yet neither allowed it to defend itself nor defended it. My right hon. Friend the former Foreign Secretary once used unhappy words about "level killing fields". Far better that there should be a level killing field than a field of slaughter, with all the heavy weaponry in one pair of hands and none in the other.
I do not want to see a quick move to lift the embargo—that will not be necessary given the resolution I have called for. There should be absolutely no doubt, however, in the Karadzic Serb mind that ethnic cleansing will not be allowed to pay off, and that those Serbs will not be allowed to alter international borders by flouting international rules.
It is essential that, during the summer recess which we are to begin tonight, there should be no question of a great European city, which is Sarajevo—a model of multi-ethnic co-operation until a few years ago—being allowed to fall. That must not be allowed to happen, and the seige must be lifted in the interests of the new European humanity about which the hon. Member for Livingston so eloquently spoke.
1764 If there is any major change in policy, there must be no question but that the House must be recalled to discuss it. I hope that there will be no faint hearts on the Conservative Benches or in any other part of the House, and no flinching from our country doing its duty. This is a great nation; a leading member of the European Union; a permanent member of the Security Council and a founder member of NATO.
In the very year when we commemorate the ending of the second world war, are we going to see our proud history of the past 50 years and our country's reputation besmirched by being defeated by the sort of people who are holding men and women to ransom in Bosnia tonight? I do not believe that we are. I have every faith in the Prime Minister. I hope that the summit on Friday will produce a resolution and determination and I look forward to that.
§ Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
Our failure and that of the international community—Britain has played an enormous part in that, in which we are all implicated, as we all agree—to stand up for what is morally right and right in international law in Bosnia has created a nightmare there, that will haunt Europe for a long time to come. It has created unbearable suffering for the people of Bosnia. The United Nations has been humiliated; NATO has been humiliated, and any petty dictator seeking to acquire territory by force must feel encouraged by what has happened in Bosnia.
Bosnia is a multi-ethnic state, recognised by the world community as an independent nation and a member of the United Nations. The population is predominantly Muslim, but it is mixed—23 per cent. of Bosnian families are a mix of Serb, Croat and Muslim. It is profoundly interesting that so much of the talk is about Serbs, Croats and Muslims, and always assumes that the Bosnian people are Muslim only.
We know that Serbia has been trying to whip up a Muslim bogeyman and suggest that Muslim people cannot have a state in Europe. We are talking about a secular Muslim European people, but there is an attempt to blackguard them as unacceptable people. The language that is used so often by the commentators, which does not refer to Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim, or Serb, Croat and Bosnian, is playing that game. That, too, is dangerous for the world. If the world is to divide and find a new enmity between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world, that would be dangerous for all of us.
There is a deep and profound feeling of anger among Muslim people throughout the world that the world community does not extend to them the rights under international law that they expect. I saw in the press, either today or yesterday, that, when the Prime Minister of Bosnia was asked why he thought the world community had not protected Bosnia, he said, "It is because we are a Muslim people." That is profoundly wrong, and profoundly dangerous.
Following the world's recognition of Bosnia as a full state under international law, Serb aggression took 70 per cent. of Bosnian territory and 30 per cent. of Croatian territory—a grave breach of international law, trying to change internationally recognised boundaries by force. Following that came the most vile ethnic cleansing, as we have learnt to call it—slaughter, torture and mass and 1765 deliberately organised rape aimed at driving people from the land in which they have lived for generations. Those are profoundly serious war crimes.
It seems to me that the constant suggestion from British Foreign Secretaries that it is a civil war, and that the task of the United Nations is merely to supply humanitarian aid with the consent of the parties—as though the two parties are on an equal footing—is profoundly wrong in principle. It accepts that boundaries can be changed by force, and serious war crimes permitted. That has been the approach form the start, and that has been the error. Under the Vance-Owen plan, there was a willingness to change boundaries, although force had changed those boundaries. There was a willingness to appease ethnic cleansing. The contact group plan does exactly the same.
I admit that, at first, I used to think that the reason for the weakness of British policy and UN strategy was a lack of resolve—a weakness and a fudge about which I was ashamed. I now think that our Government cannot be so incompetent. I believe that there is a hidden strategy to accept a greater Serbia as a way of stabilising the Balkans. Either we have an utterly unprincipled, incompetent, pusillanimous Government, or there is a hidden strategy along the lines of, "Let it happen, because we need a big power in the Balkans to stabilise the position. We will allow a greater Serbia to be built." I am becoming more and more convinced that the latter is the underlying strategy.
Throughout the conflict—it happened again today—it has been suggested that those of us who say that more could be done are advocating all-out war; that we are saying that the UN should go to war with Bosnia. None of us has ever advocated that. Those people rule out the option of an intelligent and restrained use of force by the UN to protect international law; to use force defensively to protect the safe areas, so that any Serb aggression would be against the UN, and the Serbs would have to pay the consequences. It would also be possible to use a restricted force to get food and supplies to people in the safe areas.
The humiliation for the UN is that it takes through supplies with the consent of the Serbs, who steal fuel and food from it. In effect, we are supplying the Serbs, even though there is supposed to be an embargo. That same humiliation extends to British troops supplying Gorazde. Supplies are taken through with the permission of the Serbs, who decide what our troops can or cannot have.
That position should never have been allowed to arise, and it should be brought to an end. We should insist that, when we take supplies through to Gorazde, the Serbs will not be allowed to inspect them. I understand that there are inadequate medical supplies to cope if anything happened to our troops in Gorazde, because the Serbs will allow only certain supplies to go through. That is intolerable.
I believe that, after the taking of the hostages and the shooting down of an American plane, which were met with inaction by the west, the Serbs knew that they could take the safe areas. They knew that, even if they took our soldiers hostage, we would do nothing. Our inaction was a message of weakness, allowing the Serbs to go ahead and take the safe areas, because nothing would be done.
We now have to decide what to do, and at this point I have to agree with the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell). I do so with regret, because I should have liked the United Nations to take a more robust line at the 1766 start. I do not believe that the choices are all-out withdrawal, including the withdrawal of humanitarian aid, or allowing the Bosnians to fight. There is a middle way. We can, and should, defend Gorazde; we must get supplies to Sarajevo; and we must continue to supply humanitarian aid to central Bosnia. But we must allow the Bosnian people to fight for themselves. We will not protect them, and it is absolutely wrong to allow them to be slaughtered.
The brave Bosnian army has absolutely no equipment, and a people who have been wronged as much as this people have must be entitled to fight for their own honour and future. It is unbearable and intolerable that we neither protect them nor allow them to fight. It is shameful, and I agree wholeheartedly, although with regret, with the right hon. Member for Guildford, that we must now move on and plan for the future, so that the Bosnian people can fight for themselves.
Our interests are very much tied up with this problem. There is a real danger for the future of Europe. We shall have our own Gaza strip, with our own secular European Muslim people, who will be angry and bitter and who will engage in any form of protest and violence—quite rightly—to defend themselves against all the wrong that is being done to them. We shall have 2 million refugees, with all the consequences and destabilisation that flow from that. We shall have a humiliated United Nations, a humiliated British Government and a humiliated NATO. All that will encourage any other petty dictator to start on the same road.
I appeal to the Government to adopt a more robust and honest strategy, and give up on the Greater Serbia strategy which I believe lies behind their rhetoric. I appeal to them to save Gorazde, supply Sarajevo, continue to supply humanitarian aid, and allow the Bosnian people to fight for their own future.
§ Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)
I want to deal with just three aspects of this horrendous problem. The first has been touched on a number of times and concerns the civilian population, especially the people remaining in the two enclaves and in Sarajevo.
Surprise has been expressed in some quarters about what happened in Srebrenica, surprise at the speed of its collapse and some surprise about the degree of brutality in which the Bosnian Serb army subsequently engaged, although one has to say that, set against its recent history, it was acting true to form. If that was a matter of surprise, it was also the clearest and starkest possible warning to the civilian populations that remained in the other two eastern enclaves, and potentially also to the civilian population in Sarajevo itself, of what lies in store for them if the Bosnian Serb army is able to overrun those places.
If it is the case—all realistic evidence suggests that it is—that the international community is not willing to deploy the military manpower, arms and equipment on the ground in order to defend the enclaves and, conceivably, possibly even to defend Sarajevo, we cannot simply walk away from our obligations towards the civilians remaining in those places. I am certain that everyone—inside and outside the House—has been utterly appalled at the systematic brutality of the Bosnian Serbs' treatment of the civilian population in Srebrenica and the way in which they separated the men and the boys from the women and 1767 children, taking the men and boys to an unknown fate and leaving the women and children prey to the depredations, violations and rape that then occurred. We have a profound obligation to the civilian population in those remaining places.
If we cannot provide those people with the military force to enable the safe haven policy to stand up, there is an obligation on the UN and UNPROFOR to see whether we can at least develop the option of enabling a safe passage for those who wish to leave the enclaves for central Bosnia. The last possible thing that we should do is leave it until it is too late, and to leave those people at the mercy of the Serbs. We know what would happen to them.
Of course I understand totally the difficulties, not least from the Bosnian Muslim Government, because they have been foremost in resisting any suggestion that the civilian population should leave the eastern enclaves, and indeed Sarajevo, but UNPROFOR cannot simply allow what happened to the civilian population in Srebrenica to be reproduced, in Gorazde certainly, and—I hope, if it is not too late—in Zepa. We must take steps to try to provide at least the option for those who want to take it of a safe passage back to the safer areas in central Bosnia.
My second point, which has been dealt with by a number of hon. Members, and particularly by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), who has an obviously strong constituency interest, relates to the position of the small British contingent in Gorazde. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that their safety was of paramount importance and I am sure that we were all extremely glad to hear him say that.
I am also glad that, entirely rightly and properly, my right hon. Friend did not elaborate on the options that he has under consideration for ensuring the safety of that contingent. We have a very special obligation to them, not least because by being non-combatants they are in a more vulnerable position than they would have been if they had been combatants. If they had been deployed to Gorazde in a combatant role, they would never have been deployed as a contingent of a mere 200 people with simply their own personal weapons—basically—to protection them. They would have been deployed in hugely greater numbers and with proper fire power at their disposal.
In circumstances where we have exposed our own service men to a huge degree of vulnerability and risk in a non-combatant role under the aegis of the United Nations, there is an overwhelming obligation on us to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure their safety. I hope and believe that my right hon. Friends will make certain that that happens. I hope that they will not place too much trust—or sole trust—in the repeated dictum that people will be held personally responsible on the Bosnian Serb side for what may happen to those who are taken hostage. Unhappily, there has been far too much evidence that that particular threat does not cut much ice. To back that up, I am sure that my right hon. Friends also have very positive measures in mind to protect the contingent involved.
My final point, which was touched on tangentially by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), concerns the rules of engagement which are made available to the members of UNPROFOR and especially to our own 1768 forces. In any deteriorating military situation with a capacity to escalate—this clearly is such a situation—it is absolutely essential that our service men have rules of engagement that are sufficiently flexible, sufficiently quick to operate and sufficiently delegated to commanders in quite small localities to be able to be effective in protecting them and their equipment.
Our service men clearly face a multitude of possible threats. They face the threat of being taken hostage. It is clear that they face the threat of being mined-in quite deliberately so that they are unable move with their protected vehicles. It is clear that they may at a future date face the risk of direct fire from automatic weapons, from mortars, from tanks and from artillery.
In those circumstances, it is absolutely essential that our service men have the flexibility and strength of their own rules of engagement so that they can provide for their own protection. In this House and outside, it would be considered unforgivable if a situation arose in which British forces were deprived of their weapons, were deprived of their freedom and taken hostage or, worse still, were deprived of their lives as a result of not having rules of engagement that were adequate to provide for their own security and protection. I am sure that my right hon. Friends will address that issue with the seriousness that it deserves.
This is clearly a situation of the utmost difficulty. We must deal with the realities of the fact that the international community has not put the military forces on the ground that are sufficient to impose the territorial safeguards that we in the House want. That is the inescapable reality. Unhappily, almost every country in the world has failed to deal with the problem with the strength and commitment that we have shown. I refer not least to the United States which, as a matter of policy, has refused to get committed on the ground.
In those circumstances, I see no alternative but to continue to pursue our humanitarian endeavours. We should, however, certainly keep open the option that is undoubtedly available to us—we may be coming much closer to it if we have to make a significant withdrawal—of enabling much more military help and equipment to go to the Bosnian Muslims.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
I never thought that I would find myself agreeing with the Secretary of State for Defence. I agree fully that the presence of UNPROFOR troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina has saved numerous lives. I also agreed with the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), the former Foreign Secretary, when he pointed out—it needs to be pointed out to those who put forward the idea that all this is about a Greater Serbia—that the people who are fighting in Bosnia are Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats.
The House and the international community are agonising tonight about whether we can save Gorazde and whether we can save Zepa. It is even argued that we shall have to give up Zepa.
I remember that on 29 June, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said that the safe areas in Bosnia must be demilitarised. That was the agreement when the safe areas were established. On 17 July, only two days ago, President Izetbegovic proposed holding direct 1769 negotiations with the Bosnian Serbs on freeing civilians in Zepa. According to BBC Monitoring, although this has not been reported in our media, the Bosnian Serbs reacted immediately as follows:The UN should deliver the proposal to us and we will respond to it officially. Following the events in Srebrenica the leadership of the Serb Republic would like to negotiate on Zepa with the aim of transforming it into a real demilitarised zone and to resolve all the contentious issues which caused the conflict.[Interruption.] I can hear the howling dervishes somewhere at the back. They want to get into war—
§ Mr. Wareing
I will not give way. My hon. Friend has had her 10 minutes and she was not interrupted.
My point is that it is possible to deal with the problems in Zepa and Gorazde by direct negotiations with the Bosnian Serbs. That was the aim of the United Nations resolution on safe havens and it should be carried out.
§ Mr. Wareing
I have 10 minutes. My hon. Friends should allow free speech in this country if they want free speech in Bosnia.
My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) compared Bosnia with the republics of the former USSR. It is true that we are seeing the break-up of a country, but the one essential difference is that the west brokered the change to an independent state in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We had nothing to do with what happened in Georgia or the central Asian republics of the former USSR. But we do bear some responsibility for allowing the Bosnia-Herzegovinan state to be established in the first place.
The situation in Gorazde and Zepa could be resolved if there was a willingness to go ahead with the suggestion that Izetbegovic made two days ago to speak to the Bosnian Serbs. What worries me is that all the initiatives taking place in Bosnia are being made either by the Bosnian Serbs or the Bosnian Muslims. The Bosnian Muslims decided to break the ceasefire at the beginning of May this year, and the Bosnian Serbs decided to advance to take Srebrenica.
I am afraid that we are engaged in snapshot diplomacy, and we are not looking at the full picture. We talk about the safe havens in eastern Bosnia when they are attacked and when pressure is being put on them. We do not look months ahead at what we may be discussing in this House about the situation in the former Yugoslavia. President Tudjman is at this moment preparing for an attack upon the Serbs in Krajina.
Nobody looks at the full picture and asks themselves why the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina are involved in the conflict at all. We must learn from the facts. It is no use trying to forget what happened in 1991. The fact is that whereas the Croats in Zagreb and the Muslims in Sarajevo 1770 do not want to be ruled from Belgrade, the Serbs in Bosnia and the Serbs in Croatia do not want to be ruled either from Zagreb or Sarajevo. We must accept that fact.
§ Mr. Wareing
I have made it clear that I am not giving way. We must accept that if it is right to grant the Croats and the Bosnian Muslims the right to self-determination, what's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. If the Serbs in Bosnia do not wish to be a part of the Bosnian state, we should look at the whole situation with that very much in mind.
Many of us have been shocked by the dreadful and bestial scenes in Srebrenica, and I share that shock with everyone else. But the television cameras were there, so we could see those events. But when a few months ago, the Croats decided to drive out the indigenous Serb population of western Slavonia—committing crimes as they went—it was not portrayed on television because the cameras were not there. If those events had been seen, we would have been just as appalled.
Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the UN human rights rapporteur, said that UN peacekeepers had seen numerous civilian bodies strewn along the road between Okucani and Novi Varos. The Croats denied access to international observers, and we did not see that. What I am suggesting and maintaining is that all of the crimes are certainly not going all the one way. We have to bear many things in mind.
It is no use talking about a Greater Serbia. All the Croats, all the Slovenes and all the Muslims once lived in the state of Yugoslavia. On 13 February 1991, long before people took any interest in the situation, I put questions about the rising nationalisms in Yugoslavia, as it then was. I was told—as I was told in a letter from the Prime Minister in April 1991—that Britain stood by the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. As we know, that position was maintained until the time of the Maastricht treaty.
It is unfortunate, to say the least, that in order to secure concessions on the Maastricht treaty we were willing to give in to pressure from the German Foreign Office—and many people in Germany now admit that they were wrong—to accept recognition of Slovenia and Croatia. Slovenia did not matter too much; but even the Badinter report, commissioned by Lord Carrington, reported in December 1991 that if recognition was to be given to any of the republics of the former Yugoslavia, Croatia certainly should not be one of them.
It is the suppression of the Serbian population—a very large population—by the Croatian Government that has caused much of the present conflict. I will venture a bet that it will not be long before the House is debating—
§ 10.6 pm
§ Sir Wyn Roberts (Conwy)
I am profoundly concerned about our peacekeeping role in Bosnia. It is a very difficult role to play, and it exposes our troops to all kinds of danger. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, that peacekeeping role is dependent on the consent of the parties—and, in Bosnia, that consent is far from complete.
1771 My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Sir Patrick Cormack) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) pressed for the restoration of frontiers and the raising of the siege of Sarajevo, among other things. All those objectives can hardly be attained by our troops in their peacekeeping role; they can be secured only by troops in their military role. I never thought that we would become so involved in Bosnia—"we" meaning both the British and the Welsh—but involved we are: very deeply involved. There are thousands of British troops in Bosnia, and about 200 members of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in Gorazde. As the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) observed, the position of the Royal Welch Fusiliers is fraught with danger and difficulty.
Let us be realistic: Gorazde is probably the next so-called safe haven to be attacked by the Serbian forces. I am appalled at the prospect. We have seen what the Serbs have done in Srebrenica, where the Dutch forces were so dreadfully humiliated; we also know what has happened in Zepa, where the Ukrainians were robbed of their arms. I understand from today's tapes that their lives are now being threatened. There is not much doubt in my mind that Gorazde is next, with those 200 Welshmen there. They are not there to defend it; that is not their role. They are simply there, as far as I can make out, to mark it out as a safe haven.
I ask myself, what can those 200 Fusiliers possibly do? They are caught between opposing forces who do not even want them there, so I believe that there is nothing much that they can do. I put nothing past my young compatriots in courage and bravery, but there is very little on their side apart from the firepower of the prayers of those at home. I wish that they had more support, and I understand that the French will offer such support on Friday, but that will be military support, and their role will automatically change. I also gather from the tapes that the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has already said that he will attack any forces that may be brought in to Gorazde.
That is the nub of the problem. We cannot rely on any of our allies to come to our aid, despite the efforts of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. The United States and France are benevolent but undecided, so let us be absolutely clear in our minds that the buck stops here. The buck stops with the Government, and they will be held responsible for what happens to our troops in Gorazde.
As I have said, I am full of foreboding. My advice is to get our troops in Gorazde out to a safer area, because we have the precedent of what has happened in Zepa and Srebrenica, where other United Nations forces have been involved. I would move them to a safer place if no sufficient reinforcements are available to support them, and it does not appear that such support will be available in time.
I shall not press my right hon. Friend on any withdrawal plan, but I hope that there is one and, if there is not, I have to say that someone is grievously at fault.
1772 I do not disagree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's analysis at Question Time yesterday of the overall position and the alternatives available to us, but I was especially struck by one sentence in his reply. He said:What is clear…is that it is not practical to mix war fighting with peacekeeping."—[Official Report, 18 July 1995; Vol. 263, c. 1447.]I could not agree more. That is precisely what is happening. We are changing from a peacekeeping role to war fighting mode, and we are being drawn progressively deeper into the Bosnian war situation.
That is precisely what has happened in the safe havens. The United Nations is trying to do its peacekeeping, but the combatants are determined to fight and are doing so. In the course of fighting, they are threatening our troops. We have given strong assurances about the safety of those troops. Nevertheless there is little that we can do to stop the fighting and reduce the hazard.
Against that background, I urge the Government to regard Gorazde as a special situation. I believe that it will become a special situation shortly, if the precedents of Srebrenica and Zepa are anything to go by. We should therefore regard it as a special situation, requiring very special treatment within the overall policy. I am not talking about a withdrawal policy for the whole of Bosnia. I am discussing the specific position in Gorazde, which is under imminent threat. It is quite clear to me that the United Nations peacekeeping role has failed in the safe havens and the sooner we recognise that reality, the better it will be for us all.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
While listening to the debate, I have scribbled down some notes to try to structure a reasoned statement, but it has taken a turn that almost compels me to throw them away.
First, I shall establish my credentials for commenting on the situation in Bosnia. I am a member of the Select Committee on Defence, which has visited Bosnia three times in the past two and a half years—the last time about two months ago. The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who I suppose will wind up the debate, knows all about those visits because he led them as Chairman of the Committee.
The Committee visited many military units. I must associate myself with the comments of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) because my son was in charge of maintaining the armoured personnel vehicles that went in with the Duke of Wellington's regiment when it made a dash from Vitez to Gorazde to lift the first Serb seige. If we had time—and if you would lift the rules on parliamentary language, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I could tell hon. Members exactly what my son thought about the Bosnian situation.
I have also discussed the Bosnian situation with delegates from many nations in my capacity as a member of the North Atlantic Assembly and of the parliamentary assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe states, so I am as reasonably well versed about the situation as any hon. Member might claim to be. Bearing that in mind, I must comment on some of the observations made by what I would call couch 1773 commentators who may not have visited Bosnia, who do not know the terrain and who do not understand the complexities of the situation.
We tend to sit here judging the situation with the Geneva convention at the back of our minds. It is not like that. The Bosnian forces do not behave in that manner. The lack of chivalry in Bosnia has to be seen to be believed. Unless we are prepared to take that on board and accept what kind of adversaries we are dealing with among all of the combatants, we are spitting against the wind.
Two months ago, 400 hostages—many of them manacled to lamp posts and telegraph poles—were used to deter an air strike. I put it to the House that, in Gorazde, the Bosniac—hon. Members will note that I do not say "Muslim"—army has threatened to use the Ukrainians as hostages and as bodyguards against Serbian fire unless the United Nations authorises NATO air strikes against the Serb forces. What can one do in the face of that sort of treachery? It is an absolutely crazy situation.
We talk about insisting on the re-establishment of frontiers and safe havens that were never safe in the first place. The so-called safe havens were never adequately staffed and the staff were never adequately equipped. When those so-called safe havens are infiltrated by Bosniac elements and used as springboards for launching attacks against encircling Serbian troops, how safe can we expect them to be? The whole situation is fraught with such mendacity that we do ourselves a disservice by trying to make sense of it in terms of the standards that we applied previously according to the Geneva convention.
What should we do? I tried to hint at one option in the very limited time for debate following the statement the other day. When the hostages were held last time, the most effective ally we had—pressured by the Russians—
§ Mr. Cook
Yes, Milosevic; my right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. He dragged Karadzic to the negotiations and when Karadzic left the negotiations, having been forced to climb down, he had a face like a boy with a smacked bottom. Instead of considering Milosevic's reported claim that he will help if we ease the sanctions, we must make the sanctions ever more stringent and tell Milosevic in clear terms what will happen unless he co-operates to the full in bringing the situation to an end.
We have already broken a federation between the Croats and the Bosniacs in central Bosnia, for which we should give the UN credit. I am not talking only about Britain's part, but that played by the other 41 nations. If we could succeed with the Croats and Bosniacs, who were tearing themselves apart two years ago, there is no reason—given the right approach, pressures and sanctions—why we can not do so with the others. Milosevic helped two months ago, and he can help this week.
What sickens me is the amount of criticism that is levelled at the United Nations. Members of both Front Benches have made the valid point that the UN is us. Having visited Bosnia three times during the past two years, I can tell the House that the United Nations is coming of age through this bloody awful mess. Two years ago, it was chaotic. Twelve months ago, huge improvements were to be seen. This year, the UN is a very good organisation. It is not perfect, but it has real determination and high morale. Instead of using the UN—and Britain is a member of the 1774 Security Council—as some kind of whipping boy to expunge our feelings of guilt and shame, we ought to give it credit for doing a first-class job.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) based much of his argument on three principles learnt in Vietnam. They are a defined objective, sufficient forces equipped more than adequately, and a clearly defined escape route. We have none of those principles operating in Bosnia. Even if we had, they would not have been workable because we have not in the past come into conflict with the standards operating in Bosnia. Until we learn that lesson, we do not have much chance of resolving the problem. I hope that we will learn the lessons by Friday, when the summit is to be held. I wish the Government well; they have the prayers of all of us.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). I join him in welcoming my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who was previously Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, on which I serve.
The House is right to debate Bosnia today, before it rises for the summer recess and in advance of the Lancaster house summit this Friday. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Sir P. Cormack) that we may well return during the summer recess for a renewed debate.
Although we are debating Bosnia, the broader issue of the former Yugoslavia is foremost in our minds. The United Nations was first involved in the former Yugoslavia when it established UNPROFOR 1, now renamed UNPRO. There is much unfinished business in Croatia, and it will have to be resolved before the pieces of Bosnia can be reassembled in a way that provides any chance of lasting peace. Large areas of Croatia are still unlawfully occupied by Serbia. The uneasy truce in that country has been broken because Zagreb was shelled by the Serbs. That situation must be resolved before peace can come to the former Yugoslavia.
We supported the establishment of UNPROFOR 2, but its mandate has run its course and requires redefining in light of the current situation. It is easy to say that the United Nations is faced with mission impossible. Without UNPROFOR, however, the situation would have been much worse. Fatalities have fallen from about 130,000 in 1992 to only 2,500 in 1994. That is thanks to the efforts of the UN, the aid agencies, other organisations and many volunteers who deliver humanitarian aid. Nor let us forget the work that is done by the Overseas Development Agency. Humanitarian aid has saved tens of thousands of lives. The so-called safe enclaves may not have succeeded entirely, but there is no doubt that they have substantially reduced ethnic cleansing.
We have been told that the safe enclaves required 36,000 troops to implement them and that only 7,500 were forthcoming from UN members. The first lesson is that it is no use the UN passing resolutions without first agreeing how the proposals are to be executed. It is greatly to the credit of the Government that we fulfilled our responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council by doing our bit so readily.
1775 The UN is faced with several options. I join those who say that it would be wrong to speculate on which one should be followed. There is no doubt that an all-out NATO offensive is entirely out of the question. That has been forgotten time back. A complete withdrawal is probably wrong. Perhaps moving our troops out of Gorazde is a possibility. I know only that whichever of the options we act upon, reinforcements will be needed quickly.
Total withdrawal could well mean all-out war in former Yugoslavia. It would mean bringing Serbia, and probably Croatia, back in on opposite sides. Such a war could spread to Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia. An all-out Balkan war would ensue. Even Greece and Turkey might be involved, as might the whole of the eastern Mediterranean. I am sure that the House agrees that, in that way, lies chaos. I hope that the United States Senate has the sense not to pass Senator Bob Dole's resolution with a two-thirds majority that enables it to veto the President.
As the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said, it is extremely expensive in terms of manpower to carry out a total withdrawal. It has been estimated that it would take 22 weeks to complete the exercise and that 60,000 more troops would be required. I should be interested to know the current estimates. Besides being morally wrong, total withdrawal would be entirely impracticable.
Whatever the UN, and the Government as a member of it do, some reinforcements are required at once. That will be a real test of how rapidly NATO's rapid reaction force can react. We know that 1,300 additional British troops are already in Bosnia. What about the remaining 4,000 from the 24 Air Mobile Brigade? Why do we have to wait until the end of August for them to arrive? Is the brigade really as air mobile as its name implies? Surely there are heavy lift air transports available on the open market that could be hired to convey these troops. Or are we waiting for a free lift from our American allies? If lives are at stake, which they are, I regret that the troops of the 24 Air Mobile Brigade have not already been flown out to Bosnia to reinforce our troops there.
Members of the Select Committee on Defence met our troops when we visited Bosnia under the distinguished chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Minister earlier this year. On behalf of my colleagues, I put on record our tribute to the British troops deployed in Bosnia and the British UN commander, General Rupert Smith. Their professionalism, courage and ability to cope with ever-changing and dangerous situations are to be admired—as they are by everyone who has seen them operate. Put simply, we have the best troops in the world. Their morale is high and their leadership is second to none.
There is, however, one matter that causes concern. I refer to the rules of engagement. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) dealt with that fully and I support everything that he said.
What about public opinion? Last night, Jeremy Paxman, whom I never thought I would would be complimenting in this place, compered the BBC programme "You Decide—With Paxman". A large 1776 invited audience, with many experts present, debated whether we should withdraw from Bosnia or stay in support of the United Nations.
Before the debate, 30,000 people voted by telephone; 57 per cent. were in favour of pulling out and only 43 per cent. wanted to stay. Following an intensive and well-informed debate lasting nearly an hour, the views of those who had voted changed to 69 per cent. in favour of staying in and only 31 per cent. in favour of pulling out.
During the debate, phrases such as, "aggression must not pay", "pulling out would be apocalyptic" and "we must reinforce the principles of the United Nations charter" were used. Those statements all seem to echo the public mood in Britain today. But best of all were the words of a mother of a British soldier serving in Gorazde. She said, "There is no shortage of military courage. What is now needed is political courage." I hope that the House will endorse that view.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I am always suspicious when people such as the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) talk about other people's courage. My Front Bench and some of my other colleagues will forgive me if I offer a dissenting view.
I am older than most people here and, for that reason, did national service and was tank crew. I hold the passionate belief that those of us who have the privilege to sit on green Benches in the House of Commons should not commit our fellow countrymen to hazardous situations unless they are properly protected. The fact is that they are now in a combatant role.
I am not complaining to the Secretary of State for Defence, but he was not here when my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said that these people are not abiding by anything like the Queensberry rules. It is a brutal situation. If our fellow countrymen are to be committed to a brutal situation, they really must have covering defence. That means, I suggest to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), some kind of armoured protection.
If further action is to be taken, will there be armoured cover? If so, it is easy to put in forces, but we must be clear about the kind of circumstances in which they will be pulled out. We found that in Northern Ireland and the Russians found it in Afghanistan. Pulling out forces is a delicate, difficult matter.
Once we go into the Bosnian mire—it may be right or it may be wrong, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short)—pulling out will not only be in my lifetime but in the lifetime, if we are not careful, of the youngest among us. That might seem like Cassandra, but I believe that that is the situation.
If more forces are put in and their role develops, whether they like it or not, into a combatant one, what is the Government's estimate of how long they will be there—we are talking in terms of decades—and are we sure that the British people have the will to carry on for decades? I do not think so. I was invited to a mess night at Catterick of my old regiment, the Scots Greys, now the Scots Dragoon Guards. Those people are serious soldiers and they would in all circumstances do their duty wherever they were sent, but they and the parachute officers who were there asked me as a politician how much support they would receive if their role became a 1777 combatant one. After what we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North, who is to say that it is not now, de facto, a combatant role?
My second question involves the speech of the Secretary of State for Defence. I do not want to misquote him—he will interrupt me if I have in any way misinterpreted him or done him an injustice. I understood him to say that the Government were still contemplating the use of air power and that it might well be necessary. Indeed, when in Question Time I asked a direct question on air power, there was no denial. I take it from the Secretary of State's silence that the air option is open.
If the air option were used, what would happen to those of our fellow countrymen in uniform who are pursuing a humanitarian role? As soon as those aircraft began to drop bombs, what would happen to the men in blue berets on the ground? Slit throats? In the circumstances described by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North, I think that they would meet a possibly brutal end. What would the House of Commons say then? In such situations, one has to look from the other side of the hill to see the dreadful scenarios that might develop.
By taking this attitude towards the Serbs—however brutal they may have been—we are risking defying reality. One of the realities was that Tito, during his troubles with Stalin, decided to have a deterrent. It was not a nuclear deterrent; it was training the most formidable, expert, tough guerilla army in the world. That is what had been learnt from the German occupation. In that terrain, how on earth are we ever going to have military success against people who feel that they have great causes? As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North explained, that is true of both sides in the conflict.
The option I have described may seem not so much craven as that we are not fulfilling our duty, but we have many duties and international obligations. I wonder whether such wealth as we have to devote internationally should not be devoted to the drought in Zambia, which is creating terrible problems, or to the appalling situation that is developing in Malawi and Mozambique. If we are talking about saving lives, there are other places in the world where, instead of becoming involved in a civil war, we may be more effective in relieving great and equal hardship.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
As I look around the Chamber this evening, I see many familiar faces and one or two new faces on the Government Front Bench, which I am pleased to see. We listened to the words of the Secretary of State for Defence with great care today, and understood that he spoke with great moderation. I shall perhaps return to one or two of the things he said and question him in a moment or so.
I recognise faces because this is one of the many debates that we have had on the subject of Bosnia—from the days back in 1992, when we were talking about whether troops should be committed and whether we should play a part in UNPROFOR. We were pleased that the Government decided—we felt, rather belatedly—to play their part, and have done so fully.
Every one of the debates has shown the fervour and the passion across both sides of the House. There are those who feel that we should be doing more. If I may say so 1778 to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), there are those with more cautious heads who, based on experience, tell us to think twice. They have the experience of being in the military, and know how difficult it is when one takes such action. The Government have to try to put matters in the balance and work out the risks to which we are prepared to expose our troops, our men and women. They must also place in the balance the gains for the world.
I know that the House will appreciate that the Opposition have not tried to make political capital out of this matter. There is far too much at stake for that: we are debating the lives of our people. It is right for us to take that view, because, in a sense, we are fighting to try to ensure that the values of the House and of our country can be brought about in the troubled country of Bosnia.
Those are the values of tolerance and understanding, of living together free from religious persecution and ethnic intolerance. Therefore, although we have our disagreements and feel strongly about many matters, we should remember that we are fighting for values and to try to get aid through and create a stable society in Bosnia so that those values, which once almost existed, can flourish in a true democracy.
Anyone would have to have a hard heart not to be moved by the telling pictures on television of the refugees streaming out of Srebrenica into the airport at Tuzla. Those refugees are wretched, emotionally broken and in utter and complete despair. I am not making a racist point when I say that those people are like most of us—Europeans. They had saved for their houses, washing machines and cars, but suddenly they found themselves with a bundle of clothes—if they were lucky. Everything had gone, and one could not but recognise the dreams that had been shattered.
I hope that our intelligence forces and military personnel in UNPROFOR in the vicinity of Tuzla will collect evidence to make sure that the war criminals who have perpetrated such crimes will ultimately have it used against them. I urge that important point upon the Secretary of State, and hope that such action will be taken.
In a sense, the haunting television pictures showed the need for UNPROFOR. I watched television over the weekend, and saw the despair of people living rough. Then we saw the order of 48 hours later. A tented village around the airport enabled people to at least live under some cover, protected from the night and the midday sun. Only one organisation could provide such help, and that is the UNHCR working with the non-governmental organisations.
I can think of no better reason for being in Bosnia than the fact that the UNHCR provided succour for those refugees, and that UNPROFOR provided cover for the UNHCR. That was brought home to me when I spoke today to the representative of Oxfam. He was speaking to me at midday from a Land Rover at the runway in Tuzla.
I asked him to explain the situation, and he said, "There are thousands of people and hundreds of tents. When I look round, I see one group giving vaccinations and another providing food for mothers." They were keeping people alive, and that representative said, "Please tell the 1779 House of Commons to keep the British troops in UNPROFOR and in Bosnia, because most of us in the NGOs will have to withdraw if UNPROFOR withdraws."
§ Dr. Clark
I am short of time, and I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not give way. I want to make one or two military points.
It is important to keep UNPROFOR in Bosnia. Perhaps I could develop that. We should remind ourselves of the debt that we and the world owe UNPROFOR. We owe a debt to the men and women of 29 nations who have gone to Bosnia, risked their lives, and, in some cases, lost them—14 of them from our country. I am full of admiration for them.
People talk about armchair generals, and I guess that we have some of them, but how can one have anything but admiration for the Bangladeshis who were sent up to Bihac? They had to fight against the rebels and the Serbs. On occasion, they had to resist the BiH, and they had one rifle between four of them. That takes some bravery. Many other ordinary soldiers have had similar experiences. We should remind ourselves that the grief of a family in Bangladesh is just as great as the grief of a family in Wrexham.
We have a particular and especial responsibility towards Gorazde, and in particular to the Royal Welch Fusiliers stationed there. The right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) referred to those troops. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) repeated his grave concern about whether those soldiers have adequate protection, and have been adequately protected. That concern extended to the Government's responsibility towards them.
I spoke to someone only today who came out of Gorazde recently. The Secretary of State for Defence knows how he and an entire group achieved that, but it would not be right and proper to go into details, because we do not telegraph our military operations to the other side. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that, and I shall not press him on operational matters.
We know that morale of the troops is still high; they are trained professional soldiers, and can cope with the problems they face. Their families in Wales and in other parts of Britain, however, are worried sick. Despite the brave words of brave people, most of the ordinary families of those 200 soldiers are looking to the Government to ensure that those soldiers are either sent reinforcements or relieved of their duties. Whatever the Government can do to ensure their safety and that of the refugees they are there to protect will have our full support.
I have no intention of discussing operational matters. I am more aware than most of the dangers in Gorazde. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) and I spent some time with the Muslims in that safe haven. We know about the configuration of the mountains and the bluffs. We know that the access roads are mined, and that the main access to the town is through tunnels controlled by the Serbs. We know that any helicopter that flies in is a sitting duck for any artillery on the hillsides. We know about all those difficulties, but we must work out ways to get the troops stationed there out or to send others in to protect them.
1780 Many of us were delighted when the Prime Minister announced on 31 May that a more robust contingent of soldiers would be sent to Bosnia, which would be able to react quickly if our troops or any other UNPROFOR troops were under threat. Some of them went, but for many hon. Members and members of the public, the conundrum is what has happened to 24 Airmobile.
We were told that that elite force of 5,000 self-contained personnel from two or all three services would be a rapid reaction force. That was six weeks ago, but we understand that it will be at least another four weeks before that force is operational. We understand the difficulties. We understand that some of the engineers in that force are already in Ploce making the hard stands for helicopters.
Most of us cannot understand why it will take nearly eight weeks for one of our ace elite corps, which has a prime role as a rapid reaction force, to be deployed. Why has that deployment been so slow?
Will the Minister give us some information about, or will he deny, the story that it is now planned not to deploy the full complement? Will he deny that there are plans to deploy only a half or two thirds of 24 Airmobile? The House expects to have an answer to that, without the Minister having to go into any operational difficulties.
I think that we have made our view fairly clear. We still believe that our troops and those of the other 28 nations that have personnel in the former Yugoslavia are doing a worthwhile job. We believe that, if at all possible, they should remain there.
We equally believe that, if there is one cardinal lesson that we must learn from Bosnia, it is that we do not issue ultimatums, we do not issue threats, unless we have the capability and the intention to carry them out. We must create a state in which the Bosnian Serbs will go to the table with the Bosnian Government and come to a negotiated settlement. Until they do that, there will not be peace in that country. We believe that the presence of UNPROFOR is helpful in achieving that purpose.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Nicholas Bonsor)
It is obviously a great privilege for me to stand at the Dispatch Box; I only wish that there was a happier occasion on which I could do so. I hope that that will arise in due course.
The matter that we are discussing is obviously of great concern to both sides of the House and to every Member of it. I very much welcome the approach taken by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), and the support that they have given the Government's policies. As the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said, this is not a proper occasion for party political differences. We must unite as a House to find the solution to this extraordinarily difficult problem.
Before I discuss that in more detail, I want to knock on the head something said by the hon. Member for South Shields. I assure him that there is absolutely no ground for any rumour that he might have heard that we plan to deploy anything less than the full 24 Airmobile Brigade. It is already being deployed. The plan is to deploy all the 1781 troops that were originally announced, and that will be done as fast as is possible in the rather difficult circumstances that we face.
As the House knows, there is no easy answer to the problem. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House yesterday, at present there are only three options. The first is escalation of the conflict, into a war in which we become directly involved. I do not believe that either the House or the British people wish us to take that course.
The danger to our troops and to the humanitarian aid people would be out of all proportion to any impact that we could make in finding a proper solution to the conflict. The second option is that we continue with the United Nations humanitarian and peacekeeping activities to the best of our ability. The third option is that we withdraw our troops.
The Government's preference is clear and unequivocal—we remain convinced that UNPROFOR has a key role to play, and we want it to stay. For as long as we are able, we must do all we can to alleviate suffering by ensuring that humanitarian aid gets through to those who need it. We must pursue vigorously all avenues towards a political settlement. The Government's efforts will be dedicated to that end.
In the rather short time remaining, I want to deal with the point that have been raised in the debate. First, however, I want to set out clearly why we believe that we should stay in Bosnia to do what we can.
First, the value of the work being done by our troops and those of our allies in the areas where they are deployed is invaluable. I had the great privilege, as Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, to go to Bosnia on three occasions. As the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said, our Committee went there and looked at the problem closely on the ground.
One of the things that struck me most was the value of the work being done, not only by our troops but by the Overseas Development Administration and all the volunteers who are working in that field. We went to several towns where the water and electricity would not have been working were it not for the British input to ensure that it did.
I have no doubt whatsoever that, in the British-controlled area, it is only the presence of our troops that prevents the renewal of the conflict between the Croat and Bosniac sides. Were that conflict to break out again—which it inevitably would if we were to withdraw—the bloodshed would escalate once again to the kind of levels that my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) mentioned—130,000 dead in 1992, as opposed to 2,500 in 1994. We have a responsibility—the international community and we as a member of the Security Council have a duty—to do everything in our power to prevent such a tragedy from recurring.
The consequences that were also mentioned by the hon. Member for Livingston go beyond our activities in Bosnia. I have no doubt that, if the international troops withdraw, we shall find ourselves with a rapidly worsening problem in Croatia, where the Krajina Serbs are under continuing pressure from the Croatian forces. I believe that that would break out again into a major conflict.
Of course, we all know, and have discussed many times, the real danger of the conflict spreading well beyond the boundaries even of the former Yugoslavia, and 1782 threatening the whole of the eastern region of NATO. I do not think that that is a likely outcome, but it is one that the House must take into account when deciding what we should do.
I also believe that, were we to withdraw, Serb aggression would be greatly encouraged. I have no doubt that the presence of the Dutch, difficult though it was for them, in Srebrenica prevented a much worse massacre than that which I fear may have taken place. I think that our presence around Bosnia prevents not only the Serbs but all participants in the conflict from inflicting horrific injury and torture on each other.
The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) made a very good point: this is not a one-sided conflict in which there are white hats and black hats at war. It is a conflict in which the depth of bestiality is incomprehensible in a civilised world, and it is not confined wholly to the Serbs.
Having said all that, it may be that we shall have to withdraw from Bosnia because there is a limit to the risk to which it would be right for us to expose our troops. That has been said by hon. Members of all parties, and it is a point which I can assure the House the Government consider seriously when trying to find a route ahead.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), who until recently was our Foreign Secretary, pointed out that we can operate in this theatre only with the consent of the parties. As the House will know, Mr. Sacirbey has recently indicated that he may wish us to withdraw. Whether that turns out to be a diplomatic manoeuvre or a genuine request, time will tell. Certainly, were we to be requested to withdraw, the Government's position and that of the international troops on the ground would become untenable.
As the hon. Member for Livingston also said, if it becomes too dangerous for whatever reason for our troops to remain in theatre, or especially if the embargo is lifted—meaning that the Bosnians could get an unlimited supply of weapons and thus escalate the conflict—it would not be possible for us to remain in theatre.
I deal now with four specific points that the hon. Member for Livingston raised. First, he asked whether there had been any intelligence report about what was happening in Srebrenica and, if so, why did we not respond to it? I am sure that Opposition Members know and understand that it would be wrong for me to comment from the Dispatch Box on intelligence or other information that we might or might not have received.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether the Dutch troops had requested air support. I believe that that is the case; certainly it is essential and well recognised by the Government that we should rapidly review the procedures whereby air support can be called on. While I cannot tell the House the outcome of those discussions, I can assure the House that they are being pursued vigorously, and particularly with the potential need to call it in in support of the British position if necessary.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am afraid that I cannot. I have only four more minutes, and I have a great deal to get through.
The hon. Member for Livingston asked why our troops are in such an exposed position without contingency plans. Again, I have to say to him, and I am sure that he will understand, that I cannot possibly discuss 1783 contingency plans—which may or may not have been arranged—in detail and in public. I assure the hon. Gentleman, as my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary already have, that the safety of our troops is and will remain of paramount importance to our country, and the Government are deeply aware of our duty to protect our soldiers in the positions in which they find themselves.
The hon. Gentleman asked what use the rapid reaction force would have specifically, as it is clearly not there as a fighting force. There are two particular reasons why the rapid reaction force is there, to improve the protection of the convoys and the routes along which they travel, and indeed to improve the security of those areas in which our troops are deployed; secondly, to strengthen the position and safety of our own troops. As I said before the hon. Gentleman was able to return to the Chamber, we are deploying the full complement of 24 Airmobile Brigade and all those support troops which were mentioned in the original plan.
I turn now to matters raised by some other hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) raised the question of the safety of the Welch Fusiliers, something on which several other hon. Members commented—not least the hon. Member for Stockton, North, whose son has served in Gorazde, and who knows it well. I understand that the right hon. Member for Llanelli has been briefed by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Services, and I hope that he found what he was told reassuring. I cannot go into the detail, any more than I could before, about the plans being made in that part of the world, but I reiterate the concern of the Government for the safety of those soldiers.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), who has apologised to me for not being able to be in the House at the moment, raised the need for strategic thinking. He is, of course, quite right. The meeting on 21 July is aimed specifically at finding such a strategy, and it is very important that we do so.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made much the same point, when he said that there was a need for clear political objectives, and that we must ensure that the military capability is matched to those objectives. That was undoubtedly a failing of the United Nations plan, and it must not be allowed to recur. I fear that I am running out of time, so I apologise to those hon. Members whose speeches I have not been able to deal with.
These are complex and difficult issues, greatly exacerbated by the tragedy and the appalling level of civilian suffering that we watch. We are determined to try to find a way to move matters forward, both on the diplomatic track and with regard to UNPROFOR's mission. It is to that end that we shall be working strenuously with our partners, not only in the meeting on Friday, but thereafter. The ultimate solution must be a diplomatic and not a military one, and the international community, despite all the difficulties, must strive to find it.
1784 There is, however, a limit to what we can do. We have offered the parties to this conflict an opportunity—
§ It being three hours after it was entered upon, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, pursuant to order [17 July].