Letter: After the fall of Srebrenica: intervention or withdrawal?

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From Mr Ron Owen

Sir: News headlines, including your own, have made much of the word "humiliation" in describing the UN's plight in Bosnia. I beg to differ. It is the warring tribes of Bosnia who, by their intransigence and acts of genocide, are humiliating themselves in the eyes of the civilised world. The UN representatives - soldiers and aid providers - are struggling bravely in an appalling situation, and we should learn some hard lessons from their experience.

1. Peacekeeping can only be effective when all parties to the conflict respect the peacekeepers. Troops, in the numbers present in Bosnia, can only provide the thin line that makes visible that respect. When it is repetitively breached, peacekeeping is at an end.

2. The only alternative military role for the UN is to enter the conflict with serious strength to punish aggression, restore violated frontiers and rebuild peace by defeating one of the combatants, as in the Gulf War. For this role to be possible, two conditions are needed: there must be a universally agreed aggressor, and UN forces must be deployed in adequate strength. Neither is the case in Bosnia. And granted Russia's historic support for the Serbs, it is difficult to see how both conditions could ever be met.

This leaves the UN with the alternative of withdrawal. For those to whom this seems defeatist, let me ask how many of us who have sons of military age would be willing to risk their lives for any one of the participants in this conflict?


Ron Owen

Winchester, Hampshire

12 July