British do not want troops in a Balkan war

AT FIRST sight, public attitudes to the crisis in Bosnia seem confused. NOP's survey for the Independent on Sunday finds that most of us think Britain should commit troops to international forces to protect aid convoys and to keep the Bosnians and Serbian troops apart. But we do not think the crisis justifies putting British lives at risk, and we do not want to send in the RAF to bomb Serbian artillery positions.

NOP's poll was conducted on Friday, following a period when the fighting in Bosnia had dominated news bulletins.

On Thursday night the UN Security Council authorised the use of force, if necessary, to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to the starving and besieged civilians of Bosnia, and passed a second resolution demanding unimpeded access for the Red Cross to prison camps and detention entres throughout the former Yugoslavia, where civilian prisoners have been executed, tortured and otherwise abused.

On Tuesday, UN officials said at least 20,000 Bosnians, mainly Muslims, were about to be expelled to Croatia in the largest single act of Serbian 'ethnic cleansing' in the civil war.

Yet only 33 per cent of those questioned in the survey know that Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia. Even fewer, 28 per cent, know that Serbia is the target of UN economic sanctions. (Two out of three people say they are following the crisis 'very' or 'fairly' closely; but only 39 per cent of them correctly named Bosnia's capital.)

Perhaps the most telling statistic in our poll - certainly the one that justifies Government caution before committing British forces to military action - is that only 34 per cent sympathise with Bosnia. Far fewer - 7 per cent - back Serbia. The majority of NOP's sample back neither side (26 per cent) or both (8) or say they 'don't know enough about it' (25).

These figures put public attitudes to the Bosnian crisis in a wholly different league from those at the start of the Gulf crisis two years ago. Then NOP found overwhelming support for the deployment of British troops in support of a cause that most electors understood and approved. This time there is a marked reluctance to take sides - and hence an unwillingness to back partisan military intervention.

Thus only 37 per cent agree with Paddy Ashdown that Britain should be prepared to send the RAF, in co-operation with other Western countries, to bomb Serbian artillery positions. And only 13 per cent agree with Baroness Thatcher that Britain should send weapons to Bosnia to help it fight Serbia.

The poll also uncovers widespread public anxiety about the prospect of British troops being sucked into battle. Just over half of NOP's sample agree that 'Britain should keep clear of any military action in Yugoslavia, as the situation does not justify putting British lives at risk'. A similar number want Britain to keep troops out of any fighting, 'as it would end up like Vietnam, with the fighting going on for years'.

At the same time, as many as 86 per cent do think Britain should send troops as part of a UN force to protect aid convoys; while 61 per cent back British participation in an international peace-keeping force. The popularity of these measures, it seems, flows from a belief that they involve little risk to British lives. They are supported as impartial actions by the world community to end fighting and relieve suffering.

The dilemma for John Major and the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, boils down to this. If they are seen to resist moves to intervene on the ground, they risk being criticised by voters here for inaction. (Twice as many people are dissatisfied as satisfied with the Government's handling of the crisis. Most of those who are dissatisfied think Britain should do more.)

Yet if we do send troops as part of a UN operation to protect aid convoys, and if that operation goes wrong, then the Government may well be blamed for sending servicemen to their deaths.

During the Falklands and Gulf wars, the public accepted some loss of life in the pursuit of a clear aim that attracted overwhelming support. NOP's findings demonstrate that, for the moment at least, no such consensus exists over the crisis in Bosnia.

NOP interviewed a representative sample of 1,072 electors face-to- face on Friday at 54 sampling points throughout Great Britain.

Leading article, page 22

(Graphic omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Sport
Danny Cipriani of England breaks clear to score his second try
rugby
Life and Style
New research says leaving your desk can help you to avoid serious illness
health
Arts and Entertainment
tvSPOILER ALERT: Like a mash-up of 28 Days Later, Braveheart, The Killing and Lord of the Rings, this GoT episode was a belter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral