Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Article for New York Times ("Stop the excuses. Help Bosnia now")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: New York Times, 6 August 1992
Editorial comments:

Item listed by date of publication.

Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 906
Themes: Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Defence (general)

Stop the Excuses. Help Bosnia Now.

Terrible events are happening in Bosnia; worse ones are threatened. Sarajevo is under constant bombardment. Gorazde is besieged and likely to fall. If it does, a large massacre is feared and thousands of Serbian troops will be free to move on Sarajevo, itself swollen with refugees from other areas.

The victims and losers in this conflict suffer more than the usual penalties of defeat. Some are herded into concentration camps where, even if the worst reports of atrocities are untrue they nonetheless suffer appalling privation and can be shot for insignificant offenses. Others are driven from their homes and obliged to give up their property. Children and passers-by are shot at and killed.

This is the Serbian “ethnic cleansing” policy—a term for the expulsion of the non Serb population that combines the barbarities of Hitler 's and Stalin 's policies toward other nations.

Everyone witnessing or hearing of these tragic events desperately wants them to stop. But this feeling is exploited by Serbia and its sympathizers to press for a U.N. sponsored cease-fire. Reasonable as this sounds, it is an attempt to “freeze” the present situation in which the Serbs hold about two-thirds of Bosnia's territory, whereas they make up only 31 percent of the total population as against 43 percent for the Muslims and 17 percent for the Croats.

Such an outcome would consolidate and ratify aggression. It was Serbia that planned and carried out aggression against Bosnia in April. The Government of Alija Izetbegovic in Sarajevo is the legal and internationally recognized government of the Bosnian republic.

The pretense that Serbia has nothing to do with what goes on in Bosnia is just that—a pretense. From the start there has been close coordination between supposedly independent Serbian forces in Bosnia and the Serbian high command in Belgrade, which is providing financial and military means for the war—including the all important gasoline for the Serbian forces.

It is argued by some that nothing can be done by the West unless we are prepared to risk permanent involvement in a Vietnam- or Lebanon-style conflict and potentially high Western casualties. That is partly alarmism, partly an excuse for inertia. There is a vast difference between a full-scale land invasion like Desert Storm, and a range of military interventions from lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia, through supplying arms to Bosnian forces, to direct strikes on military targets and communications.

Even if the West passes by on the other side, we cannot expect that others will do so. There is increasing alarm in Turkey and the Muslim world. More massacres of Muslims in Bosnia, terrible in themselves, would also risk the conflict spreading.

Serbia has no powerful outside backers, such as the Soviet Union in the past. It has up to now been encouraged by Western inaction, nor least by explicit statements that force would not be used. A clear threat of military action would force Serbia into contemplating an end to its aggression. Serbia should be given an ultimatum to comply with certain Western demands:

• Cessation of Serbia's economic support for the war in Bosnia to be monitored by international observers placed on the Serb-Bosnian border.

• Recognition of Bosnia's independence and territorial integrity by Belgrade and renunciation of territorial claims against it.

• Guarantees of access from Serbia and Bosnia for humanitarian teams.

• Agreement to the demilitarization of Bosnia within a broader demilitarization agreement for the whole region.

• Promise of cooperation with the return of refugees to Bosnia.

If those demands (which should be accompanied by a deadline) are not met, military retallation should follow, including aerial bombardment of bridges on the Drina linking Bosnia with Serbia, of military convoys, of gun positions around Sarajevo and Gorazde, and of military stores and other installations useful in the war. It should also be made clear that while this is not a war against the Serbian people, even installations on the Serbian side of the border may be attacked if they play an important role in the war.

American leadership in this endeavor is indispensable, as the E.C.'s paralysis has shown. But America cannot be expected to act alone. NATO, which is the most practical instrument to hand, must deal with the crisis. It is not “out of area.”

The West's ultimate aim should be the restoration of the Bosnian state, backed by international guarantees within a regional pact, perhaps under C.S.C.E. supervision, and guaranteeing the rights of the three main groups in Bosnia (but not allowing for its partition into three cantons).

Such a solution would prevent the irredentist wars that the partition of the country between Serbia and Croatia would inevitably provoke. Also, keeping the Muslims in a united Bosnia would discourage their radicalization, which would be inevitable if the Muslims were to be dispersed under alien rule. A desperate Muslim diaspora—not unlike the Palestinian one—could then turn to terrorism. Europe would have created an islamic time bomb.

Serbia will not listen until forced to listen. Only the prospect of resistance and defeat will lead to the rise of a more democratic and peaceful leadership. Waiting until the conflict burns itself out will be not only dishonorable but also very costly: refugees, terrorism, Baikan wars drawing in other countries and worse.

Hesitation has already proved costly. The matter is urgent. There are perhaps a few weeks left for a serious initiative before it is too late and a Serb victory is accomplished, with terrible long-term consequences.