Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HL PQ [Bosnia]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Lords
Source: Hansard HL [544/1104-06]
Editorial comments: 1730-40.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 842
Themes: Defence (general), Trade, Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (International organizations)
[column 1104]

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Thatcher

My Lords, I thank my Lady Chalkernoble friend for the Statement that she has been kind enough to make. I ask her two questions although it may take a little time to put them.

First, let us bear in mind that the present policies of food aid, medical aid, plus negotiations, plus [column 1105]sanctions have been in place for about a year; that the sanctions have been in place in Iraq for two-and-a-half years and have not worked; and that the no-fly zone authority does not permit us to attack a ground target even though it is mortar bombing selectively hospitals and schools. Bearing in mind, therefore, that all of those factors have left the people at the mercy of the Serbs, subject to ethnic cleansing, 2 million refugees subject to massacre and slaughter, with something like 130,000 murdered, is it the Government's stance, as I thought from the noble Baroness's Statement, to leave those things to continue as they are without changing policy? That means the continuing suffering of the Moslem people which we would not tolerate in this country. Alternatively, is it, as I thought I heard the noble Baroness half say in her reply, that we shall give the Bosnian Serbs a fortnight to decide to accept the Vance-Owen proposals and implement them? No one will take their word for anything. If they do not accept the proposals we shall then pursue a more active policy which demonstrates more resolve. Which is it? I submit that we cannot continue with a policy which says to the Moslems, “You must submit and surrender” .

My second question is this. The right of self-defence was not invented with the United Nations Charter but is as old as mankind itself. That right is recognised by Article 51 of the Charter which states that,

“nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence” .

Bearing those factors in mind, why have the Government left the people, although they have a right of self-defence, without the means of implementing that right against a vicious aggressor? We would not stand for that in this country. In answering the question, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that there is nothing moral or right about leaving a people defenceless in the path of a determined dictator aggressor?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I understand fully what my noble friend Lady Thatcher said and why she put it in the terms that she did. However, it would simply do no good for Britain alone to act on the basis of the very strong emotion which every person in this House and in another place feels. Let us have no doubts about that. What we must have is a practical resolution. There is no lack of resolve. I have probably spent more hours on the situation in Bosnia than on any other single situation requiring our frequent attention at this present time, and the same is true for every member of the Government involved. But it is the question of the practicality of action.

The first thing that we must not do is to risk worsening and extending the action. As I made clear in answer to the earlier questions from the Front Benches opposite, we have to take careful note that in Kuwait air strikes did not solve the situation. Ground troops also were needed. This is a much more difficult terrain where we have far less intelligence, where much of the Serb armaments are at times hidden in the hills and cannot be detected. Therefore whatever we do, we [column 1106]have to do it to help those poor people and also to make sure that what we do works, and works at an affordable risk.

We also need to maintain the broadest international front against Serbian aggression. I have to say to my noble friend that it would become impossible to sustain the humanitarian operation if we were to follow the course which she advocated yesterday on the television. I have had repeated discussions with Mrs. Ogata, the High Commissioner for Refugees, and other leading members of the UN and I am convinced that we should not lightly jeopardise an operation which has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, not over the past year but over the past six months since the British troops were involved on the ground in Bosnia.

I well understand the frustration that sanctions have not brought about an end to the confrontation, but I can assure my noble friend and this House that sanctions are bringing about a very severe financial situation in Serbia. Tightening those sanctions, and indeed extending them, is what we certainly may need to do. It is not a question of leaving people unprotected. It is a question of making sure that we work together to stop an all-out war which many of the solutions advocated by my noble friend could well cause.

The question of using air power is not one that has been totally rejected; but we must indeed ask the questions about humanitarian relief. We must also ask whether using air power would cause the Serbs to desist. There are many ways in which we can continue to help and we shall take whatever steps the Government, in co-operation with all their partners, deem necessary to bring this slaughter to a speedy end.