International Peacekeeping

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:43 pm on 23rd February 1993.

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Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble , Upper Bann 8:43 pm, 23rd February 1993

Like many hon. Members, I want to concentrate on the situation in former Yugoslavia. Events there in the past few years have been rather depressing to observe. I am afraid that the conclusions that they may have for us are also depressing.

Before the crisis in Yugoslavia broke, there was some reason for believing that we were in the process of putting into place, through primarily the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, a set of principles which would regulate relations in Europe and deal with the sort of problems that later emerged. The principles involved such fundamental matters as recognition of existing boundaries, provision for minority rights through concern for the human rights of members of minorities and the principle that changes should come only by way of agreement. These principles were the bedrock on which the CSCE process was supposed to operate.

When we see that that process has not operated effectively in Yugoslavia and consider the present position, we see something that is in conflict with the principles. The Owen-Vance plan for Bosnia has been described as the only show in town, but it is a most unsatisfactory show. It proposes to recognise as administrative units the ethnic divisions and ethnic units in former Yugoslavia. We are going to create a series of Serb states, Croat states and Bosnian Muslim states. This plan can operate only as a prelude to the break-up of Bosnia.

I know that under the plan there is a suggestion that there will still be some vague central authority, but the logic of events will point towards the break-up of Bosnia as presently constituted into those ethnic units because Owen-Vance recognises the ethnic units. As a corollary, the present ethnic sorting out that has started within that area will be accelerated. There may be proposals to deploy peacekeeping forces to police the operation of the Owen-Vance plan, but I suggest that it is only likely to slow down the process of break-up.

The implications of that for other areas will be considerable. If Bosnia breaks up on the ethnic lines for which Owen-Vance is laying the groundwork, inevitably the Bosnian Serbs will want to develop their relationship with the rest of Bosnia and with the Serbs in Krajina. That has implications for the territorial integrity of Croatia. It also has implications further south. The Albanians of Kosovo and the Albanians of Macedonia will ask, if the ethnic minorities are going to be recognised in Bosnia, why they cannot be recognised too.

We may feel that we can keep those areas in separate compartments mentally and try to apply to Kosovo the principles that we set out in CSCE agreements, which I understand is the position of the Government, because the Government say that they will continue to recognise the existing Serbian state and to tell the Albanian population in Kosovo that they should rely on autonomy and provide for human rights in that way, but they will not necessarily see it that way.

I attended a briefing on the subject the other day at which a gentleman who had been in the territory and was familiar with it said that the minute that a major peacekeeping force arrived in Bosnia, Kosovo would erupt, that the Kosovo Albanians realised that this would be their chance and would seize it with both hands. In the light of that, while the Owen-Vance plan may be the only show in town, it is going to be curtains for a number of territories in the way in which it operates. I do not consider that it will be a good plan or a good experience.

Having said that, I recognise that it is impossible to turn the clock back—I wish it were. We may be unable to rectify the mistakes that have been made with regard to Bosnia, but must we just sit and wait for their implications for Kosovo and Macedonia to unfold? If we cannot vindicate all the principles that underlay the CSCE process, can we at least vindicate the principle that change, if inevitable, comes only by way of agreement? At the very least can we not recognise the present state of Macedonia? I feel very concerned about the situation there.

We are told that the Greeks have no territorial ambitions over the present Slav state of Macedonia, but their blockage of recognition is, I fear, opening the way to other territories which do or may have territorial ambitions. I refer to Albania, Serbia and Bulgaria. By keeping Macedonia in limbo, we are making it something that is up for grabs, an unstable area, in which other states may be tempted to intervene.

Looking at this rather depressing situation, I think that the overriding lesson is that the CSCE process and the United Nations itself have not worked very well. It may be said that it is working better than it did during the cold war, and that is a fair point, but we must not deceive ourselves. Let us not say that we have a new world order or that we have new international authorities which can be effective. They are not being terribly effective when put to the test. Experience in Yugoslavia and elsewhere shows that they do not have an effective decision-making process. The Yugoslav crisis emphasised that. Their reactions were too late and slow.

Another lesson is that we cannot deal with all the problems that exist in the world: to do so would place too heavy a burden on the few countries willing to bear them. If we cannot deal with all the problems, dealing with only some of them may bring the process into disrepute because selectivity would then arise. There is no difference in principle between the situation in Azerbaijan and Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and that in the Balkans. For various reasons, we are involved in one but not in the other. Such selectivity will bring the international organs and the international process into disrepute.

The answer is that until we have better and more effective decision-making processes and clearer principles on which to operate we should be cautious in our approach and should confine the use of international organs and intervention to clear and flagrant cases. We need better agreed principles on which to act and greater legitimacy for the way in which we act against states.

There has been a tendency in this debate to concentrate on what could be called the military nuts and bolts. Good and sensible points have been made about military command structures, the need for amphibious forces and so on, but the essential problem is not one of command or forces but political, and until we find more effective international organs and decision-making processes we should not talk up the process. We should move more cautiously and try to work out and achieve the necessary political consensus—if not globally, at least regionally—that can provide a basis for peacekeeping operations.