Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Article for The European (Bosnia)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: The European, 17-20 December 1992
Editorial comments: Item listed by date of publication.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1060
Themes: Defence (general), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU)

Belgrade votes, Bosnia burns, and the West just fiddles

Lady Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, accuses the West of being accomplices in Bosnia's agony and calls for decisive action to halt the violence now

While most of us this Christmas will be taking a more or less well earned rest amid the security of our own families and friends, thousands of Bosnians will be hungry, bitterly cold, in fear of their lives, separated from their loved ones, hopeless and forgotten.

Their agony is above all the result of Serbia's ruthless aggression, but we in the West are to blame as well. We could have stopped this. We could still do so. We have sent a small number of our brave and highly professional servicemen to accompany inadequate supplies to feed some Bosnians before the Serbs and the winter kill them.

Sanctions are (not very effectively) being applied to Serbia. But for the most part, we in the West have actually given comfort to the aggressor. We have continued to treat this war of aggression by Serbia as if it were a “civil war” .

We have repeatedly stated in public that we will not intervene militarily, so removing even a nagging uncertainty from the minds of the generals in Belgrade. We have continued to impose an arms embargo on Bosnia (and Croatia), knowing that this leaves overwhelming military superiority in the hands of the Serbs who have inherited from the old Yugoslavia the weapons of the third largest army in Europe.

We have accepted the flouting of successive UN Security Council resolutions by Serbia, whose aircraft are still free to drop cluster bombs on women and children. To this extent, we have not been neutrals; we have been more like accomplices.

Bosnia may indeed be a “far away country” of which we know nothing. But what is happening could have the most appalling consequences for us, too.

The surrounding states cannot take any more of the thousands of “ethnically cleansed” refugees. They will soon be pouring across Europe. Already large influxes of immigrants are fuelling the fires of racism in Germany, Italy and France: Nazism and fascism are on the rise.

And there is worse. The Islamic world is in ferment. Muslim extremists are using the plight of their fellow believers in Bosnia to undermine moderate Arab regimes throughout the Middle East. Iranian involvement in Bosnia is proceeding apace. Islamic fundamentalists are even now recruiting support from the traditionally moderate Bosnian Muslims.

The refugee camps risk becoming fertile breeding grounds for future terrorism—just as the Palestinian camps were. Moreover, the possibility of direct intervention by one or more Islamic countries is increasing.

Serbia will continue with its aggression until it is compelled by military force to stop. What have they to lose? The present regime in Belgrade has used the conflict to stay in power. And we should be very careful before accepting at face value any apparent moderation in that regime after this month's elections in Serbia. The Serbs have shown remarkable cunning throughout this conflict, using a moderate facade to conceal extreme aims.

They began all this in Kosovo. It seems only a matter of time before the epicentre returns there as the Serbs begin a campaign of extermination and move on to the still unrecognised and isolated Macedonia.

In Macedonia both Greece and Bulgaria have long standing historical interests. So does Turkey. There are disturbing accounts of elements in Russia becoming more involved in assisting Serbia to beat sanctions and the arms embargo.

Not just a full-scale Balkan War but a war pitting Orthodox Slavs and Greeks against increasingly radical Muslims threatens. It is unthinkable that we should run this risk.

Action to prevent further Serb aggression and to reverse the effects of that which has taken place will now be more painful, costly and difficult. But it is still possible and no less necessary. And it is not enough to be dragged into closer engagement on the Serbs' terms and timing.

First, there must be a clear ultimatum from the UN Security Council and if not, then from Nato.

The Serbs should be given 48 hours to withdraw from the surrounds of Sarajevo and other Bosnian towns and allow through convoys of aid. There must be an immediate enforcement of Security Council resolutions interdicting Serbian use of airspace. Our own troops in Bosnia must have proper air protection. At present they are terribly exposed.

There must also be an immediate end to the arms embargo against Bosnia and Croatia. And if hostilities continue we should supply arms to enable them to defend themselves.

Second, once Bosnia's towns have been relieved, Serbia must be given a further ultimatum: to withdraw Serb forces from Bosnia entirely. These requirements must be backed by force. There is no need for a heavy commitment of land troops. The West has the technology and the airpower to make this unnecessary.

If Serb forces do not comply with these ultimata, air strikes must be launched against Serb artillery positions, tanks, ammunition dumps and supply lines, including military bases within Serbia. (Heavy artillery and tanks are more vulnerable in winter, because they are more difficult to conceal or move. In any case, the Bosnians can pin-point them for us.)

Finally, we must provide the right international framework for returning peace and stability to the region. A UN-sanctioned protectorate or “mandate” should be established by which perhaps two acceptable outside powers would uphold the security of a demilitarised Bosnia.

This must be accompanied by humanitarian efforts to resettle the refugees back in their own country. It will be possible to make whatever adjustments to the internal structure of Bosnia as may prove acceptable to the people once the refugees have returned, but not before.

Those responsible for these terrible atrocities—both those who implemented them and those who ordered them—must be brought to justice before internationally established war crimes tribunals. Serbia must also be made responsible for reparation payments for the damage to the infrastructure of her neighbours.

Edmund Burke said that “it is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph” . There is still time to save the intended victims of this second Holocaust.

Lady Thatcher will receive no payment for this article but she has asked that The European make a donation to Lady Miloska Nott 's charity, The Fund for Refugees in Slovenia, which looks after many of those who have been driven out of their homes by the fighting in Croatia and Bosnia.