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Mr. Rifkind: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for the work in which we are engaged, and I strongly endorse his observation that we must appeal to Congress to respond in a similarly bipartisan way. I have no doubt that British forces in Bosnia have been greatly heartened, and their morale greatly strengthened, by the knowledge that there is such a broad spectrum of support for the work that they have done in the past few years-- support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. If it is clear--as I believe it will be--that that broad support will be available to them for the work of the implementation force, I believe that that will make what will inevitably be a difficult task at least easier to face. We very much hope that Congress will address the issues in a similar way.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there had to be doubts--that was the word that he used--about the lasting nature of a settlement of the kind that has been announced. It would be foolish to be over-optimistic about the future. We must take it step by step. We have achieved what is--in the context of the past three years--an extraordinary breakthrough, in the form of a settlement signed by the three political leaders. I believe that a degree of exhaustion helped to contribute to that. I also think it important for the Bosnia to which the three political leaders have agreed to be a unitary Bosnian state with a central presidency, incorporating representatives from each community. That will provide a better prospect of success.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to emphasise the need to ensure that the right of refugees to return is not an empty right. Of course, the next few weeks and months will show whether that can be delivered, and it must be one of the prime tasks of the international force to assist the process.

The hon. Gentleman concluded by suggesting that the past three years had been years of failure, which may now turn into success. I hope that on reflection he will reconsider the use of that term. Yes, there have been massive disappointments, but I believe that the extent to which the international community saved many hundreds of thousands of lives prevented the conflict from spreading elsewhere in the Balkans and helped to provide the framework that has led to the peace settlement. That is not only worthy in itself, but unprecedented. I can think of no comparable past conflict in which the international community has been able to achieve so much. The fact that we did not achieve nearly as much as we would all have liked is not evidence of failure; it just shows how painful and difficult the task is.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford): Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that his balanced and cautious

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assessment of the prospects for the deal is about right, and that there are many problems and difficulties still to be overcome? He talked about troops arriving and leaving. I am sure that he would accept that a great deal of cement will be needed to keep the agreement in place--and indeed, to make it work at all. That will involve a heavy and sustained commitment by NATO for a long while ahead. Does my right hon. and learned Friend feel that not only we but our American allies are committed to the long haul in terms of troop commitment which alone will ensure that the situation becomes stable again?

Mr. Rifkind: We are not contemplating a long haul in the sense that my right hon. Friend appeared to imply by his question.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): As in Cyprus?

Mr. Rifkind: It is important to reflect on the fact that-- unlike the situation in Cyprus, which the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has mentioned--the implementation force is going to Bosnia after a political settlement, not instead of a political settlement, as happened in Cyprus. That has been one of the major difficulties with that island over the years. A closer parallel might be Cambodia, where an international force went in after a political settlement, helped to cement the agreement and was withdrawn after a given period.

It is part of the thinking of the international community that the NATO-led force should be very large, so as to establish its authority at an early stage. We hope that, if it succeeds in its efforts, it will be possible to scale down its size over a relatively limited period. At the moment, the planning envisages the presence of the international force for up to a year. I appreciate that, on the basis of experience, it is difficult to guarantee such a period, but I emphasise that the role of the international force is not as a permanent international military presence, but to assist the Bosnian parties in the implementation of what has been agreed and then to withdraw.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East): While we congratulate the British forces on the contribution that they have made in Bosnia, does the Foreign Secretary agree that we should be slow to congratulate ourselves, as it has taken four bloody years for the international community to achieve that fragile peace? Is it not also salutary for Europe to remember that the whole-hearted military, political and diplomatic leadership of the United States was required before the peace could be achieved? Finally, if the United States cannot put troops on the ground, can NATO ever be the same again?

Mr. Rifkind: A NATO operation cannot take place without the United States; I am sure that there can be no ambiguity about that. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the four years that it has taken to reach this stage, but he should reflect on the fact that, if those who are fighting a war are determined to pursue that war, there is little that external countries can do unless they wish to become combatants in the conflict--not a solution that the hon. and learned Gentleman has ever advocated. Therefore, the prime responsibility for the time that it has taken for the war to come to a conclusion must lie with the combatants.

Of course, the hon. and learned Gentleman is correct to say that the necessary involvement of the United States in achieving the progress that has been made should be a

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clear indication of the insufficiency of a purely European response to a problem of that kind. Clearly the problem of Bosnia has caused concern and reactions all around the world, not only in Europe but in Islamic countries as well as in the United States. It has required an international response.

That is why, over the past couple of years, the United Kingdom, France and other western European countries have sought to persuade the United States to give its full diplomatic weight to the prospects for a negotiated settlement. We are pleased and satisfied that the United States responded to that advice, and we have gradually seen the improvements on which I am reporting today.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Notwithstanding my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks, does he accept that many people perceive that the much more united and determined approach and the true resolve that we have seen in recent months--to which my right hon. and learned Friend has made a contribution, for which I thank him--has resulted in the settlement? Does he agree that it is now essential that that resolve is maintained and that the momentum is not lost? In that context, will he tell the House when he expects the London conference to be held?

Mr. Rifkind: There are a number of reasons why we have seen progress in recent weeks, the most important of which has been the effect of the pressure on President Milosevic and his decision to break with Karadzic and Mladic and push for a political settlement. The last London conference--which led to the establishment of the rapid reaction force led by Britain and France--was important, as was the American initiative, to which I have paid tribute. We are expecting the peace implementation conference to be held in very early December, and we are discussing dates with allies and other relevant countries at present.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Is the Secretary of State aware that there are other interpretations of what has happened? The break-up of Yugoslavia was brought about by the recognition of Croatia by Germany, and has been followed by the arming of Croatia by the United States, the use of massive air strikes--in which more bombs were dropped by NATO than by all of the other parties throughout the war--and the ultimatum at Dayton. Is it really the case that a NATO occupation of former Yugoslavia--for that is what is involved, with about 60,000 troops deployed to keep the peace--and the requirement to introduce a market economy constitute anything other than a very unstable future which sidelines the UN? That is one of the anxieties that many people will feel when they hear what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said.

Mr. Rifkind: The right hon. Gentleman is not correct in his historical analysis or in his current assessment. I believe that the break-up of Yugoslavia was inevitable once Slovenia and then Croatia had decided to secede from that country. The question of recognition by other states may have had some impact on the precise consequences of that, but the break-up was inevitable for internal reasons, not external.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the proposal as a "NATO occupation" of Bosnia. He is quite wrong in that suggestion. Part of the agreement that all three parties have signed is a desire that NATO and other countries,

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including Russia, should provide an international force to help monitor and implement the settlement. We are not going into Bosnia against the wishes of the Bosnians-- quite the opposite. It is part of their request. The Bosnians recognise that, without that international force, the settlement will collapse and we will be back to the carnage that we have seen in recent times.

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