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

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: The decision hangs in the balance as to whether or not a United Nations peace enforcement operation is to be mounted in Bosnia-

Herzegovina as a safeguard to the humanitarian operation already under way. It is perfectly legitimate for force to be used in self- defence, but anything more sophisticated and more aggressive needs very careful and deep study.

A full-scale operation with tens of thousands of troops appears to be under consideration, but can such a deployment have any chance of success? If one draws on the German army's failure in the Second World War to subdue the partisans, divided as they were, it is difficult to believe that a mixed UN force would be any more successful at overcoming the opposition in Bosnia today.

It is certainly improbable that such a military intervention would deter the Serbian forces. We only have to go back to the Fifties and Cyprus and remind ourselves how a handful of Eoka fighters, not more than 200 all told, held at bay between 12,000 and 15,000 British soldiers for four years. I ask the decision-makers to be very wary about committing the UN to yet another dangerous, and probably abortive, exercise in peace


Instead, there is a lesser option open to the UN. It is a standing principle of all UN peace-keeping operations that self-defence can be used in the face of any attack, or imminent threat of attack, to safeguard UN soldiers' lives, their positions and equipment and the force's ability to fulfil its mandate. There is no requirement to seek a Security Council resolution; it is a standing operating procedure.

In Cyprus in 1967, at the village of Melousha, the Greek Cypriot national guard was marching on the village to apprehend Turkish Cypriot fighters alleged to be there. The UN positioned troops between the national guard and the village, and warned that if the national guard came within 200 yards of the UN positions, the troops would use force in self-defence to prevent an attack on the village. The national guard halted 250 yards from the UN positions and later returned to barracks. The deterrent effect of the intention to use force to uphold the mandate was sufficient to prevent what could have become an act of genocide.

If one applies this principle to today's situation in and around Sarajevo, it would be perfectly legitimate for the UN to provide a self-defence capability to ensure that the humanitarian operation's mandate is secured and the UN positions on the airport and relief convoys protected. It could do this by employing helicopter gunships, assisted by spotter aircraft, against the Serbian artillery and mortar positions from which the shelling comes. In the context of self-defence, it would be sufficient for the aerial attacks to be directed against the weapons themselves and not against the troop positions. It would be enough to destroy the enemy's fire-power capability, and could provide an adequate deterrent against further attacks on the UN.

It may be argued that even if this were effective, it would solve only part of the problem. It is for the decision-makers to make up their minds as to what they want; to ensure the implementation of the humanitarian operation as the mandate requires, or to carry the fight to the Serbian forces, involving the probability of a war of attrition with an inconclusive result.

Yours faithfully,



The Centre for International


Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

9 August

The writer was Chief of Staff of the UN Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus, 1966-68.