We think our chap can do it: Profile: Lt-Gen Sir Michael Rose, UN peace-seeker in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
THIS weekend, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose may have to decide whether to call for air strikes on any remaining Bosnian Serb positions around besieged Sarajevo. The new UN commander in Bosnia will be doing so in the knowledge that the Nato powers are divided about the efficacy of bombing, and are far less happy than they are letting on about the motives for Russia's unilateral intervention.

If things do eventually go horribly wrong, Rose knows that the diplomats and the international civil servants at the other end of the UN's long and tortuous chain of command will be only too ready to dump the blame on the soldier in the field.

It is, in short, a brute of a job that Rose has inherited and one which has defeated some of Nato's finest. For example, his immediate predecessor, the Belgian Lieutenant-General Francis Briquemont, increasingly insubordinate and sulky in public, asked to be relieved of his post six months early, pleading exhaustion.

General Lewis MacKenzie, a Canadian, and General Philippe Morillon of France also quit the Bosnian command, infuriated by UN indecision. And Rose's superior, General Jean Cot, overall commander of UN forces in former Yugoslavia, is working out his notice, having in effect been sacked for rowing with the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

One thing you can be sure of. The cool, cerebral Rose might employ a tactical loss of his formidable temper under stress, but he won't throw a tantrum, go into a sulk or walk off the job pleading exhaustion when the going gets rough. He will see things through to the bitter end, like one of those Ealing Studios, stiff-upper-lip, Second World War heroes he so resembles.

What is less clear is why, in spite of its appalling history, did the British fight so hard, late last year, to get the thankless Bosnian command? Unlike, say, the senior posts in the European Union, it does not circulate automatically among participating states. Governments squabble over the privilege of putting their man into the hot seat.

In part, British determination was a simple matter of prestige. 'We had seen a lot of foreigners doing (rather badly) the sort of job which we think we do rather well,' said one military source. In part, it was said to be a signal that the Prime Minister had decided the time had come for Britain to play a more active role in the Balkan crisis, and ministers believed they had a man uniquely qualified for the job.

The man picked to fill the post is probably the most cerebral and least orthodox - as well as being the best- looking - of the eight Lieutenant- Generals in the British Army. Hugh Michael Rose was born on 5 January 1940 into a respected military family. His father, Hugh Vincent Rose, retired as a Lieutenant-General in the Indian Army. Before he did so, scandal struck the family. Rose's mother divorced his father to marry the novelist John Masters, whose autobiography, The Road Past Mandalay, deals with the episode.

Some observers explain Rose's cold personal style, his driving ambition and his intensely private domestic life as being reactions to this traumatic occurence. For example, he has been married for 25 years, apparently very happily, to Angela Raye Shaw and they have two sons. Yet long before he - and they - became potential targets for terrorists, he had decreed that no questions about his family would be answered, either by friends or by the Ministry of Defence.

When his parents separated, Rose was packed off to Cheltenham College, then a rather spartan public school that had strong service connections. He seems to have been happy there, for he remains in close touch with the school and is expected eventually to become a governor.

From Cheltenham, he went up to St Edmund Hall, Oxford, then a hearty college better known for its sporting prowess than its intellectual achievements. Rose was already an officer in the Territorial Army. At 'Teddy Hall' the slight young man with a buttoned- up manner and icy blue eyes sailed, rowed and skied, maintained his unfashionable military connections, and kept himself to himself.

He only narrowly missed a First in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, then regarded as a radical and innovative course that attracted the sort of vaguely progressive people who were destined for politics, journalism or the higher reaches of the Civil Service.

Rose's single-minded determination to become a professional soldier was unusual in such company. More unusual was his insistence that he regarded his academic training as particularly appropriate to a modern military career. But so it was to prove. After graduating, he spent six months at the Sorbonne before being commissioned into the Coldstream Guards in 1964. He served for two years in Aden as the colony moved bloodily towards full independence. Conflict there was unorthodox and cruel, involving both urban terrorism and tribal warfare.

He was then posted to London, where he soon became dissatisfied with the essentially ornamental social life of a Guards officer about town. Although recently married, he hankered after further action. So he applied, successfully, to join the Special Air Service.

This was the making of the man. The SAS is a secretive, elite organisation in which initiative, unorthodox intelligence, lateral thinking, ruthlessness and cold courage come together. As such it suited Rose down to the ground. For him, membership meant two decades of shadowy service in Oman, Malaysia and eventually Northern Ireland. There he became military assistant to the General Officer Commanding in the late Seventies, when rumours of a supposed shoot-to- kill policy first surfaced.

This was the period in which Rose earned his reputation for ruthlessness and an undying hatred of the IRA. But those who served under him at the time stress his preoccupation with 'action within the law'.

Two events in the early Eighties - the seizure of the Iranian embassy and the Falklands War - made Rose's reputation. He was in charge of the SAS unit that stormed the embassy in May 1980. Live television put the abseiling, flashbombing boys in black firmly into the public consciousness - as well as that of Margaret Thatcher, who was particularly captivated by the good- looking irregular soldier commanding the unit. He was awarded the Queen's Medal for Gallantry - and was subsequently to use the Thatcher connection at a crucial moment.

Michael Rose's role in the Falklands War is more contentious. Legend has it that he was responsible for plans to kill Colonel Menendez, the Argentine commander on the islands, and General Galtieri, the dictator back in Buenos Aires. He is said to have been the crucial, but unacknowledged, figure in the capture of the strategically important Mount Kent.

It was, it is said, Rose's idea to break into civilian broadcasting to get a message to the Argentines persuading them that it was time to accept honourable surrender. Above all, it is whispered that he used his field satellite telephone to communicate directly with Thatcher, urging her to instruct her more cautious senior officers to 'get on with the bloody war'. But the tales can't all be true. Critics say that those - including the call to the Prime Minister - which are true have been grossly exaggerated, and wonder who has been doing the exaggerating.

Whatever the answer, Rose's career progressed by leaps and bounds in the Thatcher years. As the Cold War came to an end, Rose did a stint as, in effect, the nation's counter-terrorism chief. One whose job it was to liaise with him at this time recalls with awe a slim, immaculately dressed six-footer, 'hooked on ideas, some of them batty, some just impractical and some unorthodox and utterly brilliant'. Those that were approved would be implemented whatever the difficulties.

In 1990 Rose became director of the Army Staff College - in spite of reservations on the part of his more orthodox peers. He spent three innovative years developing new courses, often taught by people who were not part of the military establishment.

These courses reflected the fact that Rose, like a large number of British fighting men of his generation, had had surprisingly little direct experience of the conflict between the West and the Soviet bloc. Consider how he had spent the previous 20 years: he had been involved in nasty little colonial and post- colonial conflicts in the Middle East and the Far East; he had fought sectarian terrorism in Northern Ireland and beyond; and conducted a secretive war- within-a-war in the apparently anachronistic Falklands campaign.

By accident rather than design, then, he was a man whose time had come: well suited to the chaotic post-Communist world in which nationality, race and religion were more important than secular ideology, and where terrorism spilled over into civil war and 'ethnic cleansing'. He knew more about Armalites than strategic nuclear weapons and was more used to dealing with warlords and tribal chiefs than with officers commanding mighty armies. He had come to believe that the future of the British Army was more likely to involve counter-terrorism, international policing, peace-making and peace-keeping, rather than global conflict.

So, high-risk though it is, the Bosnian command has come at the right moment for Michael Rose. It gives him the opportunity to test his controversial theories under adverse circumstances. The forces at his disposal are small and his lines of command complex and confused. He does not face an enemy but two conflicting groups, both of whom are unscrupulous and can be appallingly cruel. He knows that he cannot expect unqualified backing from his sponsors. (On Thursday, the Cabinet turned down his request for 3,000 more ground troops.) And he knows that small errors of judgement could have disproportionately damaging effects.

But, if he does succeed in making and keeping peace in Bosnia, his unorthodox approach will have been vindicated and he will be in a powerful position to shape British military thinking into the next century.