Sir: James Fenton's eloquent indictment of our policy in Bosnia ("Political platitudes that allow genocide", 14 August) discriminates between the tragic exodus of Krajina Serbs and the still more appalling fate apparently suffered by the Muslim men of Srebrenica. He might have added that the moral indifference to the welfare of others that breeds appeasement is characteristically justified by obscuring distinctions between the nature and scale of war crimes such as he describes. Michael Portillo's even- handed charge that the Croatians are now as responsible as the Serbs for ethnic cleansing just recapitulates the claim that it would be folly for the West to intervene in a Bosnian civil war in which atrocities have been committed by all parties.
In Bosnia, the only moral boundaries on which our governments have insisted are those that would contain the conflict and keep to a minimum the number of casualties of Western troops. Mr Fenton rightly denounces the platitudes that pass for official policy on Bosnia, but on his own criteria "Never again" has become a vacuous slogan, not because Serbs have successfully emulated Nazis in genocide but because all the institutions by which we had, since 1945, defined our collective response to national crimes against humanity have proved a sham.
Allowing that our politicians are as indifferent to what we say as to the pleas of Bosnians, what might those of us in Britain who share Mr Fenton's outrage at the bluster of Western governments do? Perhaps this much. We can record how British officials remained irresolute at every stage that decisive action was called for, even belatedly by the French to save Srebrenica and the Americans to protect Bihac. Our response to the fall of Srebrenica, in particular, when hardly a single British minister has thought fit to join world calls to investigate allegations of the worst atrocity committed on European soil in 50 years, has been the most ignominious episode of our foreign policy throughout that period.
We should also report how the prosecution of octogenarian war criminals has been pursued by a power unwilling to prevent the commission of war crimes. In Western diplomacy, the harm done to Britain's moral standing throughout the world by its appeasement of terror has been unrivalled by public officials of any other states and, if we cannot remind our politicians of their responsibilities, we can at least make plain to others how little they speak for us. With regard to foreign policy alone, Great Britain has been at the heart of Europe far too long.
Department of Government
University of Manchester
14 AugustReuse content