Should we intervene with arms?: Opinions are divided over whether Britain should use military force and send troops to try to end the bloodshed in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Wednesday 16 December 1992
Lord Healey, former deputy leader of the Labour Party and Secretary of State for Defence from 1964 to 1970: 'It is very difficult to define military objectives that we could sensibly achieve. That is the real problem. From that point of view I have some sympathy with the Government. The one thing that is totally irrelevant would be to shoot down aircraft which are not flying anyway in a no-fly zone; that is gesture politics like the no- fly zone over southern Iraq which has not had the slightest effect on Saddam's persecution of the Shias.'
Rabbi Hugo Gryn, of West London Synagogue: 'We should have intervened about a year ago. It was clear quite early on that this conflict was based purely on power and when that power was unchecked it ran to excesses. One of the most shameful things that political leaders in the West have been saying is that they did not think they should intervene merely on humanitarian grounds. But humanitarian grounds should override other considerations if we are to have any moral credibility.'
Tariq Azim-Khan, a member of the moderate Muslim Forum: 'It would have been better if the conflict could have been ended without military intervention, but I think it is obvious now that short of such intervention this problem is not going to go away.
'With the support of the UN, we should send more British and UN troops to Bosnia to keep the warring factions apart and ensure that food and other aid gets through to the needy. We should be providing air cover for these troops and a wider brief to allow them to get supplies through.
'There is a feeling among many Muslims that had it not been Muslims involved in this conflict, forces would have been sent long ago. I do not share this view, but the lack of clear-thinking on Bosnia by governments has created this impression.'
Lord Callaghan, Prime Minister from 1976 to 1979 and Foreign Secretary from 1974 to 1976: 'There should have been large-scale military intervention over a year ago. The situation has changed since then. If it had been done a year ago on a very large scale they could then have dealt with the situation much more easily than they could now. It should have been intervention on the ground.'
Brenda Katten, chairman of the Zionist Federation, an umbrella organisation which includes relatives of Holocaust survivors among its members: 'I do not know if sending more troops would help. I believe the priority is for Europe to open its gates to those who are the victims of 'ethnic cleansing' and of the Bosnian winter. As Jews, we are quite horrified at what is going on: we lost a lot of our people in the 1930s because the gates were closed on us. What is sad is that we don't learn from history.'
Monica Furlong, novelist: 'I think we should intervene, on the whole. I can never take the hard pacifist line. I am afraid of Muslim countries doing it in a much harder way if we don't'
Bruce Kent, vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: 'I do not think that we should intervene militarily but there are a number of ways in which we could intervene. We should be starting a dialogue with peace groups in Serbia and we should impose an absolute embargo on arms and petrol. There should also be an air exclusion zone. I do not think we would have to shoot down Serbian planes, the threat would be enough.'
Pam Hogg, fashion designer: 'We should be doing everything we can to help with food and medical supplies, but I don't agree with intervening militarily. When you intervene in that way, you tend to cause more problems than existed in the first place.'
Dr Tom Gallacher, Reader in Peace Studies, University of Bradford, and member of Action on Bosnia pressure group: 'Bosnia is the type of society the EC should be rushing to defend. It has been a metaphor for tolerance and cultural diversity, an example of how diverse religious and cultural traditions can politically co-exist. Bosnia is a strong rebuke to the stereotype of rigid and unyielding Balkan nationalism. Military intervention by the West could take various forms. There would be no great expense in knocking out artillery posts around Sarajevo by air strikes. Military commanders on the ground say the siege could be lifted in a day . . . Serbian aircraft in Bosnian airspace should be shot down, and Western troops should be sent in to reinforce Bosnian troops, and break continuing sieges.'
Don McCullin, war photographer: 'What most people seem to forget about Bosnia is Rule One: read history. Certainly it's got the makings of another Vietnam where you just tie up thousands of troops and lose in the end . . . They can stop the military flights by the Serbs but even limited air strikes against them could have terrible consequences. They'd strike back at British forces on the ground and that puts the UN into a totally different category . . .
'I'd not commit one single British soldier into that horrendous situation. It would be a terrible, terrible mistake. I've seen so much of it and they've all been mistakes, every one of them.'
General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley, former commander Allied Forces Northern Europe: 'If the UN is to retain its credibility it has got to, firstly, make the sanctions work, notably closing the avenue on the Danube, it has to enforce the air exclusion zone, it has to lift the arms embargo on Bosnia. That is the minimum that can be done. Otherwise it's got to stop pretending it ever agreed to Bosnia-Herzegovina being a sovereign state. It can't go back on that. Beyond that it has to consider putting in sufficient forces to try and bring hostilities in the localised areas where it's taking place to an end.'
Robert O'Neill, Chichele Professor of the History of War at Oxford University, who served in Vietnam and is a former director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies: 'I don't see much point in increasing the commitment beyond its present level. The reason is that the ferocity of the fighting is such that the local forces are not ready for a settlement that can be monitored. Secondly, the country is very rugged. Thirdly, both these factors mean the likelihood of quite substantial casualties and I don't think that public opinion is ready for that . . .'
The Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and MEP for Northern Ireland: 'I don't think Britain should intervene militarily. I think it's a matter for the EC, and the leaders of the EC who say they're the only people who can bring peace in Europe. They're the ones flying the flag for European unity, let them do it.'
John Keane, official war artist in the Gulf 1991: 'If some international effort could make sense of the situation, I wouldn't be against sending in the troops, in a peace-enforcing role. Until now, there has been a lot of ringing of hands and agonising without any attempt to ameliorate the situation. That's not good enough.'
Malcolm Bradbury, writer: 'My feeling is that we should have intervened months ago when the armour came out of Belgrade into Croatia. Had it happened then and had the Serbs been given a very clear warning by taking out some of that armour then a great deal of this would not have happened.'
Trevor Royle, military historian: 'The UK can't put more troops in because we don't have the troops. Nato, with the UK taking part, should be showing the world the way forward. The air exclusion zone, if it had been enforced, would have solved the problem. It wasn't, and an opportunity was lost. All war is difficult. But if you put in massive fire power and make it clear to the Serbians that retaliation will be used, then they would never take that on.'
Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, Britain's biggest union: 'Britain should intervene in Bosnia as part of an UN military intervention to halt 'ethnic cleansing' and to create the conditions for a political solution to the problem, in line with UN resolutions.'
David Greenwood, director of the Centre for Defence Studies, at the University of Aberdeen: 'Intervention is required. However I do understand the Government's reservations about initiating intervention when there is no assurance that such action will have a decisive effect . . . In retrospect, one would like to have seen whether a rigorous enforcement of sanctions, a firm blockade and a strict no-fly zone would have in fact restrained the Serbs. But we may be nearing the time when those options will be seen as lost.'
Maj-Gen Mat Abraham, a retired cavalryman who has a son serving as a major with 9th/12th Lancers in Bosnia: 'History teaches us two things: 1. Don't march on Moscow; 2. Don't get mixed up in the Balkans. My reaction to the whole thing is if you can get humanitarian stuff through that's good but sending a lot of soldiers is crazy. They'll just get absorbed, hundreds and thousands of them, in a country that's very good for guerrilla warfare. The only sensible thing, really, is to try to prevent the war spreading and there's a danger of it going into Greece and Albania and all round there . . . but the very idea of going in and forcing the Serbs into surrender is absurd.'
Basil Mitchell, philosopher: 'I find the whole thing totally horrific and entirely confusing. My instincts are that we ought to intervene more effectively, but I don't know if it can be done . . '
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