Letter: Precedents for keeping the peace, pacifying the Balkans and saving the children

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Sir: The leading article 'The dangers of inaction' (7 August) assesses the advisability of the use of force in the Balkans. The campaign by Tiberius (later emperor) in that region, is one historical precedent that UN/Nato strategists could appreciate. The Roman army was the best armed and organised force in Europe in AD 6, yet when Dalmatian and Pannonian tribes in what is now Bosnia and Serbia rebelled, their use of the terrain and knowledge of Roman tactics enabled them to destabilise the entire region.

While the rebels besieged Roman settlements and Adriatic ports, however, Tiberius was able to surround the region and use enveloping forces to open up lines of communication along the Sava and Drava river valleys to the beleaguered settlements. Rebel forces were then isolated in hill country, the smaller groups being attacked and broken up, while the food supplies on which they depended were destroyed. Tiberius also preferred to use negotiation from a position of strength to pitched battle, despite political pressure from Rome for a speedy victory. Although Tiberius had to use 10 legions and a large auxiliary force to pacify the region, only low casualties were incurred.

The result was a lasting peace for the region in AD 9, and its fuller involvement in the empire. Tiberius himself was commended by his soldiers for being careful and considerate. General Norman Schwarzkopf cited Hannibal as an influence on his Gulf war strategy, but military strategists could learn from Tiberius. Politicians, however, could also learn from this precedent not to ignore other unstable regions, for it was the neglect of the would-be province of Germany that led to a defeat for Rome there, and its loss in the same year as Tiberius's pacification of the Balkans.

Yours sincerely,


Belmont, Surrey

8 August