Letter: Why Britain should be involved in action against Serbian tyranny

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The Independent Online
Sir: The comparison that Correlli Barnett makes (letter, 2 January) between the pre-1914 Balkan wars and the present conflict in the former Yugoslavia is a vintage example of the woolly thinking that he detested among those who advocate using the military resources of Nato to disarm a totalitarian regime that threatens the peace of all Europe (letter, 29 December).

Slobodan Milosevic's regime combines a lethal cocktail of neo- Communism and ultra-nationalism. He has already fought wars in three republics of the former Yugoslav federation (Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina) and all the available evidence suggests he is gearing up for further conflicts in Macedonia and Kosovo.

The pre-1914 Balkan wars were brief skirmishes over territory between the retreating Ottoman Turks and their Balkan opponents and then between several of the latter. They did not occasion the loss of life or destruction seen in 1991-92 and they lacked an architect such as Mr Milosevic, whose determination to export conflict beyond his Serbian fiefdom could bring Greece and Turkey, both members of Nato, into conflict.

It would indeed be ironic if a paranoid neo-Communist such as Mr Milosevic succeeded in busting open the alliance system that was created in 1940 to contain his like. Hitler divided the previous European security system in the Thirties before launching his own land grab. He was aided by those who insisted, as Mr Barnett does today, that Britain had no business in containing aggression in east-central Europe.

Many historians agree that firm co-ordinated action by Britain and France in 1936, when Hitler prepared to occupy the Rhineland, could have stopped him. Europe may have reached the same crossroads in dealing with Mr Milosevic. Like Hitler's in 1936, Mr Milosevic's forces are still relatively puny, but the prospect of forming an alliance with a Russia slipping into the hands of Slavophile nationalists may transform him into the kind of crusading zealot ready to spread the war and suffering wherever he can.

Mr Barnett rejoices in a Britain that keeps its armies at home, as in the day of Sir Robert Walpole. But the lesson of misconceived isolationism is surely that tyranny and aggression exact a greater price in military lives the longer they are allowed to proliferate by insular democrats who only delude themselves if they believe they can indefinitely live with the consequences of a Europe shaped by the likes of Slobodan Milosevic.

Yours faithfully,


Department of Peace Studies

University of Bradford

2 January