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Leaving them dead but fed

Richard Dowden
Thursday 15 December 1994 00:02 GMT

Suppose, just suppose, that the multinational force flying a United Nations flag in Bosnia manages to get itself evacuated with acceptable casualties. The Balkan war then starts in earnest as the Bosnian army and the Bosnian Serbs move to fill the spacesleft by the Blue Helmets. Croatia, too, chases its share of the spoils. Sooner or later, journalists uncover a genocidal massacre of women and children, or find villagers so hungry they are boiling grass for soup.Do we go back in? Or have we miss ed ourchance to save Bosnia?

The kindest interpretation of British and French policy is as an attempt to supply relief aid and to protect this aid with a force that would also serve to calm the military situation, so allowing political leaders to secure an agreement to stop the wars. Britain and France also faked an attempt to intervene in the politics of the Balkans by setting up "safe areas", which they were unwilling to protect by force.

A less kind interpretation will put Bosnia in the context of other countries that have disintegrated while the Western powers did nothing - or the wrong thing. Most of those that have imploded in the last few years have been in Africa. No outsiders had any interest in any particular clan or warlord coming to power in Somalia. No one needed Angola's oil and diamonds that much. Nobody wanted anything to do with Liberia, and in Rwanda the UN force was withdrawn by France and the United States.

In each case the peoples of these countries had nothing but their humanity to prompt concern. Those with an ability to intervene - the United States, France and Britain - stood aside or limited their concern to "humanitarian" intervention: food and medical supplies for the victims. No attempt was made to address the causes of their vulnerability. The result of that policy is known in the aid business as "well-fed dead".

The Falklanders had their Britishness to save them and the Kuwaitis had oil. Television footage of the Kurds in northern Iraq forced George Bush to send in the marines, the day after he had declared that he would not do so. More recently, Washington tookon the Haiti problem because it was so close to home. Bosnia, however, does not seem close enough to Europe to merit more than humanitarian intervention. Britain and France have chosen not to see Bosnia in ideological terms. To them it is a local atavistic squabble and they have decided to be "neutral", thereby allowing the stronger side to win.

There were several moments when the opportunity to change the course of history in the Balkans was lost. They were lost because Europe - France and Britain in particular - was divided and indecisive, and undermined its own credibility. In his aptly titled forthcoming book Triumph of a Lack of Will, James Gow, lecturer in War Studies at Kings College London, traces the many moments when a show of coercive force made the Serbs back off and the many other moments when a resolute follow through would have dissuaded them further.

"The conclusions are clear," Gow wrote in an earlier article. "Wherever there has been someone or something to force the Serbian camp to modify its behaviour, that behaviour has been modified. Where there has been no serious impediment, the Serbian military machine has freely used violence, or the threat of violence, to get what it wants."

But Douglas Hurd and Alain Juppe are like schoolmasters who have progressively lost control of the class. "If you don't go back to your seats, I'll make you sit down - and this time I really mean it!" They never meant it, and the bad boys have found the door had no lock and teacher was not allowed to use his cane. In the end, the teacher is going home, which is where the bad boys want him.

The failure will be blamed on the United Nations. This is a bit like the directors of a company blaming "the board" for its poor results. When it comes to military intervention there are three countries that count: the United States, Britain and France -with Russia in agreement if possible. But they like to hide behind the UN so as to spread the blame when things go wrong. In Bosnia General Sir Michael Rose takes his orders from Malcolm Rifkind, our Defence Secretary, not Kofi Annan, the head of peace-keeping at the UN. The UN is simply the forum for discussing the issues and rubber-stamping the decisions. The decisions are taken by Mr Hurd and Mr Juppe, not Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and it is Mr Hurd and Mr Juppe who must take the blame for failure.

The only question unanswered is whether they saw that the war would escalate and chose to have a weak force in Bosnia so as to make it hostage to the Serbs and give France and Britain an excuse for not intervening further.

The message to anyone else in the region is that for all their rhetoric, Britain, France and the United States are not prepared to protect small states against aggressive neighbours. It is a comforting message to fanatical nationalists. Meanwhile, those who are pondering how to get Unprofor out of Bosnia wonder if it will require a major Nato intervention. It would be ironic if in order to extricate Unprofor, Nato was forced to use the sort of strength many have been calling for all along - and which the politicians said could not be used.

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