Yugoslavia

Part of Class Ii, Vote 2 – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 5th March 1992.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East 4:45 pm, 5th March 1992

History is not dead: it is alive and unwell in Yugoslavia. Those who wish to find heroes or villains in that tangled conflict or to discover the aggressors or apportion blame will start their clocks at different times. Some will go back to the second world war, some will go back to the first world war and some will reach back even further into history to the great fault line between the Ottoman empire and Christendom.

The immediate background to tragedy is the collapse of communism and the death of the charismatic Tito, which removed the evil and superficial overlay to reveal old national realities. Now that that overlay has been removed in Yugoslavia and elsewhere, there is a real danger that it will be replaced by authoritarian leaders or the military.

The speed of the dissolution—the implosion—of Yugoslavia and the depth of the anger between the different nationalities that it has revealed has surprised some. However, with the benefit of hindsight, that dissolution seemed almost inevitable given that so few unifying factors remain in what was once Yugoslavia.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and his Select Committee on producing, yet again, a first-rate report, which is, of course, a valedictory dispatch. That Committee has been most fortunate because, for the past five years, it has observed one of the most fascinating periods of history. During that time, the Committee has distinguished itself, as it has with this report, by bringing its wisdom to the House.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, this particular Select Committee report appears as a timely background to the debate. It has helped us to reflect on the lessons and perhaps it will enable us to avoid some of the looming tragedies that could occur in the remaining parts of what was once Yugoslavia. We may, of course, face similar challenges in various crises with the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. Even in Yugoslavia, as the right hon. Gentleman underlined, the tragedy may yet be played out because there is a precarious peace in Bosnia, and Macedonia offers its own special complexities.

The questions for us to analyse include what lessons we can learn from the drift to war since the summer of 1991. When could intervention by the international community have been justified and productive? For example, an arms ban could have amounted to intervention on behalf of one of the combatants, given the way in which arms were distributed between the various parties to the conflict. In the summer there were no simple, agreed frontiers and there were many pockets of fighting, which certainly would have endangered any peace-making forces that sought to intervene.

Was it too brutish for the international community to allow the combatants, in effect, to exhaust themselves? Perhaps we are faced with a similar problem in Nagorany Karabakh, after the failure of the peace-making efforts by Iranians and Turks, at a time when the CIS—the Commonwealth of Independent States—forces are withdrawing and when there seems to be no international body with the will and resources to intervene in that sad part of the world.

Was it right to try to keep the federal structures intact? Our presumption was that it was right to do so, certainly as a transitional mechanism, while a longer-term solution might be sought. We in the United Kingdom viewed some of the pressure that came from at least one of our EC partners with a certain wariness, because of our experience in Northern Ireland and in Cyprus. Precipitate intervention, in our view—knowing the difficulties of extricating oneself—would have considerable and long-term resource implications.

Key questions included the definition of national sovereignty. At what point could the international community intervene in a recognised country at a time of civil war? Similarly, a key quesiton was the point at which the component parts of a state could legitimately demand self-determination for themselves. Where were the limits? Was it a question of size? Where could one stop? There was also the question, as the Select Committee pointed out pertinently, of the recognition criteria—the fact that the Badinter criteria were overlooked or ignored by the Community, which accepted the fait accompli of its own recognition.

The Yugoslav crisis has revealed that the United Kingdom is not relevant on its own but only as part of its alliances. It has revealed that the European Community, after its dismal showing in the Gulf crisis, has played a key and largely positive role. But the problems of a common foreign and security policy, to come into effect formally post-Maastricht on 1 July of next year, are clearly revealed by an examination of the EC response to the crisis. The problems of Macedonia remain and may lead to a Greek opt-out of any EC decision.