British Forces (Bosnia)

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 10th March 1994.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence 3:30 pm, 10th March 1994

With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the British contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping effort in Bosnia.

Since the first deployment of UNPROFOR troops to the former Yugoslavia, the United Kingdom has contributed to the growing international military effort to contain the conflict and alleviate suffering. In the spring of 1992, we sent an Army field ambulance to Croatia. In the autumn of that year, we sent an armoured infantry battalion group to Bosnia to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the victims of the conflict. That deployment has undoubtedly helped to save thousands of lives. The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are also making a very important contribution.

There are now some 2,450 British soldiers serving in UNPROFOR's Bosnia-Herzegovina command— a contribution second only to that of the French. Since the beginning of the year, we have also provided the commander for the UN forces in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, who is carrying out his responsibilities in a most impressive manner. Our military effort in the former Yugoslavia is outstanding in scale, range and quality, and we need fear no comparison with the contribution of any other nation in the world.

Until recently, the diplomatic and military efforts of the international community achieved limited success. Spillover of the conflict was prevented and relief was successfully brought to its victims, but the warring factions in Bosnia seemed determined to carry on fighting. The prospect, however, has been transformed by the NATO ultimatum that followed the mortar attack on the Sarajevo marketplace on 5 February, the ceasefire agreement in Sarajevo, which was negotiated by General Rose on 9 February, and the removal or corralling of the heavy weapons attacking the city.

Those dramatic events not only brought a fragile calm to Sarajevo itself, but have acted as a catalyst elsewhere in Bosnia. On 23 February, a ceasefire was signed between the Bosnian Government and Bosnian Croat commanders which provided for withdrawal of troops from a buffer zone, withdrawal or UN control of heavy weapons and the opening of routes.

On Tuesday this week, United Nations troops took control of Tuzla airport. There have, of course, been many disappointments in Bosnia before, and there may be others to come; but if the ceasefires in Sarajevo and central Bosnia hold, they could be the first steps towards the ending of the conflict. I pay tribute to those in UNPROFOR who negotiated the ceasefires, and in particular to General Rose, General Cot and Mr. Akashi.

The ceasefires have brought not only new opportunities for UNPROFOR, but new responsibilities. To police a buffer zone and monitor heavy weapons, large numbers of men are needed on the ground. In central Bosnia, the front line between Muslims and Croats is 125 miles long. Quite suddenly, UNPROFOR has found its task greatly expanded and its resources greatly overstretched, both in Sarajevo and central Bosnia. The United Nations has therefore appealed for additional troops.

The Coldstream Guards, whose mission hitherto had been to support humanitarian aid convoys, have found themselves with a major peacekeeping task on their doorstep. Their enthusiasm is great; they are determined to do their utmost to make the ceasefire a success. But it has become clear that the effort involved, while tolerable for a time, is unsustainable beyond the short term with their current manpower.

The question of reinforcement has thus become an immediate issue, not just for the British contingent, but for UNPROFOR as a whole. The United Kingdom has a national interest in securing a peaceful outcome to the Bosnian conflict, but that interest is equally shared by other European nations, some of which have closer links with the Balkans, and is also shared by the world community at large.

Although the UK contribution to the region is already a large one, a further UK contribution at this stage as part of a co-ordinated international effort would help to make the difference between success and failure for the ceasefires. That in turn should contribute to shortening the conflict, and reduce the burden on British troops currently in Bosnia.

It was for those reasons that we took the initiative in convening a meeting of troop contributors, actual and potential, in New York— under the chairmanship of Sir David Hannay, our ambassador to the UN— to see whether the international community was prepared to provide more troops for UNPROFOR to take advantage of the window of opportunity that has suddenly opened there. The results of the meeting were very encouraging. Leaving aside any offer by the United Kingdom, there have been offers amounting to some 3,850 new troops, plus further offers to redeploy some 2,450 troops from elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia. That gives a total of 6,300 extra troops for Bosnia, in addition to any UK contribution. Finally, up to a further 4,000 troops are expected to be deployed by the summer.

As part of this response, Her Majesty's Government have decided to reinforce the British UNPROFOR contingent by sending a second battalion group, some 900 strong, to central Bosnia, initially for four months. Its nucleus will be the 1st Duke of Wellington regiment, which is equipped with the Saxon wheeled armoured personnel carrier. Advance elements of the battalion will be in Split by tonight. The battalion group will include engineers, signallers and support troops, and a medium reconnaissance squadron of the Light Dragoons.

We will always be cautious when sending British troops to serve in a foreign country. We have had to strike a balance among a number of factor: the manpower demands of UNPROFOR's expanding role, the prospects of peace taking hold, our own national interest, the willingness of the rest of the world to recognise theirs and, above all, the need to ensure that British troops are not asked to do the impossible. Our judgment is that reinforcement is the right course at the present time. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing the battalion group godspeed.

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement.

Labour has been calling for the dispatch of additional troops for peacekeeping in Bosnia for some time now, and welcomes the fact that, at long last, Her Majesty's Government have responded positively. We join the Government in hoping that the peace that has come about, in a rather unexpected way, is maintained and, indeed, extended throughout Bosnia. We see the dispatch of British troops as part of that process.

Indeed, it is a tribute to the professionalism and impartiality of British troops that they are in so much demand by the United Nations throughout the world. We wish all the service personnel well in their undertaking of this dangerous and hazardous task in Bosnia, and their attempt to end the carnage and murder there; we trust and pray that they all return home safely.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the extra troops will have the specific objective of maintaining the fragile peace—which is a somewhat different role from the original purely humanitarian one? Have the rules of engagement been altered to take account of that change of role?

In his statement, the Secretary of State mentioned that other countries had joined us. Can he give the House any idea of which countries have decided to help us to bring about and extend the peace, and has any progress been made in persuading the United States that the peace process actually is a process? Is the United States prepared to fulfil its promise to put in troops once a peace process has been agreed by the three sides?

Will the Secretary of State advise the House whether he feels that there is any danger in other parts of the former Yugoslavia, from where troops have been transferred? I presume that the transfer has been from Croatia and possibly Macedonia. Is there any news on whether the Americans will increase their contribution in Macedonia and thereby perhaps relieve other troops there?

The main question remains: why have we had to wait three weeks for the Secretary of State's announcement? Did not General Rose—having brought about a peace by his bold initiative—plead for extra troops from the Government three weeks ago? Why have the Government dithered so long when the troops have been ready and waiting to go since 17 February? Does not the Secretary of State realise that his vacillation and delay have put at risk not only the tenuous peace, but the lives of our overstretched troops in Bosnia?

The Secretary of State made great play of his efforts in the UN, and rightly so, but does he not realise that Britain, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has a responsibility to be a leader, not a laggard, when it comes to helping in United Nations operations?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

I am sorry, but not surprised, that the hon. Gentleman should have spoiled his earlier remarks by his rather foolish and silly comments at the end. He must be as aware as the rest of the House that, far from dithering, the United Kingdom has taken the lead in coordinating the response at the UN. That has been widely recognised both by the UN and by the rest of the international community. The hon. Gentleman either displays total ignorance of what has been happening in the past week or a desire to be partisan, even at a time when our armed forces would expect the House to speak with a single voice on such a matter. He cheapens his role as the official spokesman of the Opposition in that way.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, for obvious reasons, we do not normally comment on the details of rules of engagement, but I assure him that the new forces that go to Bosnia will have the same opportunities to ensure their protection as all other British forces in Bosnia. In the past year, we have seen how British forces have not been slow to defend themselves with the military assets at their disposal, whenever that has been necessary.

Of course, it is for individual Governments to announce their national contribution—I cannot do that on their behalf—but the French, the Russians and the Czechs have already said publicly that they propose to make significant additional contributions and a number of other countries are at an advanced stage of considering doing so. The assurances that have been given at the UN add up to the 6,300 additional troops, to which I referred.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the implications, for example, in Macedonia if troops were redeployed from there to Bosnia. We understand that the United States is giving those matters some consideration and may make an early announcement. It is important that any troop movement from Macedonia or Croatia should be made only if it is operationally sensible to do so, and that might mean, in certain circumstances, replacing existing troops with those from other countries.

As I said, the main role of the Duke of Wellington regiment when it arrives in Bosnia will be to relieve the burden on the Coldstream Guards and to share the responsibility of monitoring the position in central Bosnia, given the improved position that now exists.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. Obviously, a large number of hon. Members want to be called, so I ask for brisk exchanges from both Back-Bench Members and the Government Front Bench.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Upminster

As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, some members of the Select Committee on Defence have been fortunate enough to visit General Rose and the forces of all three services at Split—we returned yesterday. My right hon. and learned Friend will be reassured to know that the morale of our troops out there is extremely high and there is no doubt that they are carrying out their job superbly.

There is, however, great overstretch in our troops central Bosnia, principally as a result of the agreement on a ceasefire reached between the Croat and Muslim commanders. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to send a battalion to support us in the difficult task, and I hope that he will be guaranteed the support of the House.

I have two brief questions. First, is it correct that the troops will be attached to the BRITFOR forces under the command of Brigadier Reith and be responsible principally to him? Secondly, on a more general note, is it still Government policy to refrain from any involvement in peacemaking but to reiterate the importance of peacekeeping?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

I can reassure my hon. Friend that we do not perceive the basic role of British forces as having changed. They are there as part of a United Nations mission, not to enforce a peace but to contribute towards the peace that we hope is emerging in Bosnia. In answer to my hon. Friend's first question, the forces will come under the command of Brigadier Reith, but they will, of course, be under the overall command of General Rose, who will determine their detailed deployment, which we expect will be to help the British troops already in central Bosnia.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

May I welcome without qualification the Secretary of State's announcement? May I also congratulate the Government on the diplomatic achievement that they initiated at the United Nations? Will the Secretary of State say whether, during the Government's initiative, efforts were made to persuade the United States of not only the military value of their involvement but the psychological advantage that it would give to the whole UN effort in the former Yugoslavia?

Does the Secretary of State agree that any welcome that the House may give to his announcement will be more than outweighed by the favourable reception that it will receive from British forces in Bosnia who will see it as a welcome reinforcement of the considerable success that they have achieved in the past two weeks or so?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for congratulating the Government on their diplomatic efforts at the United Nations, which have borne significant fruit—indeed, they have perhaps borne fruit to an even greater extent than many had anticipated. I know that the United States is giving serious thought to being able to make a useful contribution to the new initiative. Clearly, it sees certain constraints on it at the moment, but I think that it is likely that it will be able to assist the new efforts in a positive and helpful way.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that not every member of the Security Council sends troops anywhere in the world that the United Nations requires them and that, if the circumstances were to change dramatically, we still have provision for the safe evacuation of our forces?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

We have always had contingency plans in case the withdrawal of British forces or other UN forces might be required. As for my hon. Friend's earlier comment, of the five permanent members of the Security Council, China does not, of course, at present participate in UN missions. The United States plays a significant part in the work of the United Nations, including that in the former Yugoslavia, as it has forces in Croatia and Macedonia, although only a small handful in Bosnia at present.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North

The Secretary of State will have seen that his visit to Bulford camp yesterday featured on television. He appeared there with my son, who is currently accompanying the Saxons on their sea trip to Split. I am sure that we all have confidence in the ability of the units that are already deployed there and those that are joining them, and that we wish them well. However, I understand that the heavier assets that were there have been withdrawn. Can the Secretary of State assure us that, in the event of things turning sour, as they could well do, those assets will be replaced? Will he also say whether the four-month duration to which he referred is to be rotational and that units will be moved around?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman's son is one of the many fine young men and women who are serving in Bosnia, doing splendid work in enhancing the reputation of United Kingdom armed forces. There have been times in the past year when certain equipment has been temporarily withdrawn if it was deemed to be operationally unnecessary, but it can always be returned if the situation changes—the hon. Gentleman may be assured of that.

On rotational matters, I have indicated today that the new battalion group is going out for an initial period of four months. Of course, we shall come to a judgment at the appropriate time about whether that should be continued, depending on the circumstances that exist in Bosnia at that time.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Budgen Mr Nicholas Budgen , Wolverhampton South West

Now that it is clear that British troops have moved from a humanitarian role to a peacekeeping role, will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House for how many months he anticipates that some 3,500 British troops will be in Bosnia?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

I cannot make that prediction; nor would I try to do so. Until three or four weeks ago, it looked as though little progress was being made towards the ending of this ghastly war. Then, perhaps suddenly, the situation began to improve in a fairly dramatic way. In the past month alone, there has been real hope and real prospects for improvement of a kind that had not been seen for some time. It is not possible to make the kind of prediction for which my hon. Friends asks.

I believe that the reinforcements which we and other UN countries are proposing at the present time create a better prospect for the success of the current, fragile moves towards peace. That would not only bring an end to the war, but enable the return home of all the UN forces at an earlier date than would otherwise have proved possible.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

I welcome the fact that the announcement has been made at last, but will the Secretary of State give some indication of the effect that the further deployment will have on the emergency tour interval for our forces? In view of the increasing evidence of overstretch in the British armed forces, will he heed the specific recommendation made by the Defence Select Committee, that the Government should halt the rundown of the British Army?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

The Government have the target of an emergency tour interval of 24 months, which should be reached by the time the draw-down has been completed in 1995. We still have every expectation that, notwithstanding today's announcement, that target will be met. I have checked that point in particular.

On the hon. Gentleman's general point, he should compare the 3,500 troops in Bosnia—our main new commitment in recent years—with the reduction of about 40,000 in the British Army in Germany. That huge reduction of the requirement to have forces permanently in Germany has enabled us to make the changes to the Army to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire

In congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend on his welcome announcement, may I ask whether he will confirm that, during the past three, critical weeks, the UN and all the Governments concerned have had nothing but positive co-operation from the legitimate and recognised Government of Bosnia?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

One of the changes that are to be welcomed over the past few weeks has been the increased co-operation from the Bosnian Government and from certain of the representatives of the other warring groups. It is precisely for that reason that the Croat-Muslim ceasefire, for example, in central Bosnia, has proved to have far more substance than we have seen in the past. Without that co-operation from Croat as well as Bosnian-Muslim authorities, we would not be seeing the progress on the ground that we are now able to report.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

Apart from the uneasiness felt by many people of different opinions at Britain getting deeper and deeper into what the Foreign Secretary described on 10 February as a civil war, is the Secretary of State aware that to send Turkish troops would be historically illiterate and intensely dangerous, not only because Turkey ruled that part of the world for six centuries, but because Turkish troops occupy northern Cyprus against United Nations instructions, and are themselves violators of international law? Will he make it absolutely clear that there would be no British Government support of Turkish troops being sent into the former Yugoslavia?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

Obviously, the offer by the Turkish Government to send forces to Bosnia is a matter for the Secretary-General, on which he will come to a view. He will be the person who takes that decision on behalf of the UN. Although those are delicate and sensitive issues, there are already forces from Russia, for example, in Bosnia. Russia is well known to have close links in the historical relationship with the Serbian community. I do not believe that, automatically,. it must follow that the historical background of various countries in the Balkans should preclude their being able to make a current contribution.

Photo of Peter Tapsell Peter Tapsell , Linsey East

Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that those of us who warned from the beginning against the dangers of committing British ground forces in the former Yugoslavia, even for the protection of humanitarian convoys, now view with a sickening sense of the inevitable the slowly unfolding fact that, as we all predicted, we are moving on from protecting the convoys to maintaining peace? In those circumstances, why are we sending only one battalion, when five divisions will eventually prove insufficient?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

I appreciate that my hon. Friend has always opposed sending any British forces to Bosnia. However, he should reflect on the fact that about 30 members of the United Nations now are making some contribution of troops in the former Yugoslavia. Against that background, it is inconceivable that the United Kingdom could have declined to be part of the international effort to help when there is a huge amount of suffering in a fellow European country. The size of the reinforcements that we are now sending corresponds closely with what General Sir Michael Rose believes would be the kind of contribution from the United Kingdom that would help to meet his needs. That is an important factor to bear in mind.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Administration Committee

The Secretary of State knows that there are dangers of civil war in other countries in eastern Europe. Is his decision today a sign that British troops may go into other countries in eastern Europe?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

Any request from the United Nations is considered on its merits. British forces have been and still are in a number of other countries. One thinks of Cambodia and Cyprus, as well as other parts of the world. But it does not automatically follow that the United Kingdom sends troops to any international crisis. In Somalia, for example, we had no forces on the ground because we believed that the contribution that we were making elsewhere was quite sufficient in terms of our overall international responsibilities. Each crisis and each United Nations contribution will be considered on its merits at the time.

Photo of Mr Peter Hordern Mr Peter Hordern , Horsham

As the armed forces in Bosnia are there under the auspices of the United Nations in a peacekeeping role, is it not vital that every major country in the United Nations, especially the United States, be represented? Would it not make a material difference to the commitment shown in Bosnia and to the prospects for peace if the United States had forces on the ground?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

The United States already makes a major contribution to the affairs of Bosnia, as we saw with the imposition of the no-fly zone and the shooting down of Bosnian Serb aircraft by United States aircraft. The United States navy is also making an important contribution, and its forces are present on the ground in both Macedonia and Croatia.

I hear what my right hon. Friend says about ground forces in Bosnia. The United States has suggested that if there were an overall ceasefire in Bosnia and a consequent need for a larger UN force, it would be prepared to make a significant contribution to the ground forces that might be required. Whether the United States will respond to the present gradual implementation of a ceasefire is for that country to determine.

We are all conscious of the fact that the situation is different from what was expected in Washington and in other capitals a few weeks ago. We have what could properly be described as a creeping ceasefire in various parts of Bosnia, and that may influence the debate in Washington, as it has done in other capitals.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

I congratulate the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on having managed to borrow a bit of backbone from somewhere. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman share the general relief that America has taken over the construction of peace in the old Yugoslavia from the devious, damaging and dangerous policies of David Owen?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

I would not want to enter into the personal estrangement between the hon. Gentleman and Lord Owen. All I can say is that, if I ever needed the advice of one or other of them to help solve a serious international problem, I might prefer that of Lord Owen.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood

In the light of the long experience of Her Majesty's forces in Northern Ireland, where they have had to contain inter-communal strife in extremely difficult circumstances, and given that we have an all-regular system of engagement, are not British forces in Bosnia likely to make a contribution whose effectiveness will be out of all proportion to their numbers?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend look again at the "Options for Change" exercise, because the conditions that it presupposed, of a safer and more secure Europe, do not seem to apply any longer?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

I very much agree with my hon. Friend's comments about the vast experience of British forces, partly through their experience of Northern Ireland, and partly through the many other operations that they have carried out on behalf of the United Nations and elsewhere.

The "Options for Change" exercise postulated the circumstances that would exist with the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union. I do not think that there is any illusion in this country about the fact that Europe remains a very unstable place, where there are new threats and tensions. That is why we have every intention of ensuring that the British Army and the armed forces as a whole remain highly capable, well equipped, well trained and able to carry out tasks on behalf of the United Kingdom in years to come. It will be a smaller Army than it was during the cold war, but that is true of every NATO country, of Russia and, indeed, of virtually every other European country.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

May I ask the Minister and the Foreign Secretary to reflect on whether they should approach the United Nations—incidentally, we have a veto there—to plead with it to think very carefully before introducing any Turkish Ottoman troops to that area? Given history, and given their ruthlessness, it is really setting a keg in a very delicate situation.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

These are matters to which the Secretary-General of the United Nations will wish to give appropriate weight. At a time when we have a strong need to ensure the level of UN forces in Bosnia to carry out the mandate, and when all UN forces in Bosnia will come not under national command but under Sir Michael Rose and General Cot, as UN commanders, most countries in the region have an important contribution to make and, therefore, can provide helpful assistance.

Photo of Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes , Wimbledon

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is precious little point in our having the best peacekeeping troops in the world if they are not deployed, especially at the request of a British general who has been conspicuous in his ability to get things done in that tragic region? In view of the uncomfortable, long-term implications of such deployments, will he continue to urge other nations to make appropriate contributions, using as their yardstick the brilliant expertise and ability of British troops?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is why, over the past week, we decided to take the initiative in the United Nations in order to ensure proper co-ordination of the international response. Without that British initiative at the UN, it is possible that each country would have been waiting for every other country to make an announcement, rather than coming forward with their own proposals. We ensured that, in each of the capitals, concentration and effort were given to deciding what contribution could be made. That is why it has been possible today to announce a total of at least 6,000 additional troops. Indeed, that figure may increase in the weeks to come.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

Does the Secretary of State accept that we not only applaud the fine work of our soldiers and military people in Bosnia but recognise that they are well respected as a highly disciplined and even-handed force by all the warring factions?

Has the participation of Russia been the most significant factor leading to the opening of Tuzla airport? Can the Secretary of State tell the House whether that means that the Russian troops who are presently situated in eastern Slavonia will have to be withdrawn? If so, where will replacements come from? May we have some information about the deployment or redeployment of the Russian troops?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

The question of the deployment or redeployment of Russian troops is essentially a matter for the UN commanders in the former Yugoslavia. That is their responsibility, and they will report their views to the Secretary-General.

We welcome the Russian contribution, as we welcome the contributions from other countries. Clearly, Russia—with the particular relationship it has with the Serbian population—can sometimes influence events in a hopeful and constructive way. One of the great benefits during the past two years has been the way in which Russia and the other permanent members of the Security Council have worked closely in putting through various resolutions. We saw a clear example of that in the support that Russia gave to the action taken by NATO in shooting down the Bosnian Serb aircraft which had violated the no-fly zone. Such agreement would have been unthinkable a few years ago, and illustrates the change in the situation.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Davyhulme

Having had occasion a week ago to express my concern to the Prime Minister at the apparent delay in responding to General Rose's urgent appeal for more troops, may I now say to my right hon. and learned Friend—and, through him, to the Prime Minister—how warmly I welcome today's announcement of the dispatch of a battalion group to reinforce our forces in Bosnia?

May I also, through my right hon. and learned Friend, congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the excellent job that he and Sir David Hannay have done in drumming up support from other allied nations and the UN? Is it not clear that General Rose—by demonstrating that the Serbs are not 12 ft tall and that a bit of courage goes a long way—has done a superb job? We owe him, and the superb men under his command, a great debt.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, which I am sure are entirely justified. I would add one note of caution, however. The UN has been successful in the past few weeks and I pay tribute, as does the House, to the remarkable achievements of General Rose. However, the war cannot be brought to an end solely by the UN, although the UN can be a magic ingredient—if I can put it that way—which enables the factions to end the conflict and come to some long-term peace agreement.

There are many hundreds of thousands of people fighting in Bosnia. The UN can make a crucial contribution when the time is right to bring peace. That time may now be near, and perhaps the UN can carry out that role. However, we must not expect either General Rose or the UN to deliver more than can be realistically expected of them.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George , Walsall South

The Defence Select Committee was privileged to meet General Rose and Brigadier Reith—two superb officers among many superb officers. I doubt whether any hon. Member who had been exposed to their arguments for additional troops, as the Defence Select Committee was, could have argued against the use of additional forces. There has been a gross overstretch of forces, and there are historic opportunities awaiting us. The argument is overwhelming, and I welcome the initiative.

If the detachments are to go out early, when will the rest arrive? When will their equipment arrive and was not there a better way of sending it than by a protracted sea journey? Could not a heavy airlift have been considered? Most important, when will the troops be ready to operate? The time for intervention is now, and I welcome the Government's response, albeit slightly late.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

The first company is flying out tonight and the remainder of the battalion group will join them in several days. The heavier equipment probably will have to go by sea. Some consideration has been given to whether some of it could be carried by an airlift; it would be preferable if that could be done.

The first task of the troops when they arrive, subject to their commanders, probably will be to take up static duties until their vehicles arrive. That will release the existing British troops to take on more mobile responsibilities, so there will be no waste of time. From the moment they arrive, they will be doing valuable and important work, and the overall pressure on the Coldstream Guards and the other existing forces will be substantially reduced.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , Wealden

Can my right hon. and learned Friend reassure the House that elements of the efficient NATO command structure, which played such a notable part in the success that we had in Sarajevo, will continue to be in place while we are maintaining and securing the recent peace agreements which were so successfully negotiated?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

Yes. One of General Sir Michael Rose's priorities has been to reform the command structure to make it more cohesive and effective. Brigadier Reith, the commander of the British forces, has an overall responsibility as a one-star officer not only for the British forces but for the Malaysian, Canadian and other forces in that part of Bosnia.

Photo of Mr Ken Maginnis Mr Ken Maginnis , Fermanagh and South Tyrone

My party is reassured that the Secretary of State has resisted pressure to take precipitate action to increase United Kingdom troop levels before obtaining the co-operation of allied nations. May I suggest that we shall be undertaking an open-ended task in Bosnia, because of the bitterness between the factions, unless we can obtain some means to ensure that those factions surrender their heavy field artillery and other weaponry, rather than simply withdraw them from particular areas at particular times?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind The Secretary of State for Defence

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it was important to ensure that the British contribution was made not in isolation, but as part of an international response to the request that the United Nations made to the international community as a whole. With regard to the duration of our commitment, from the first moment that we sent British forces, we could not be certain of the precise length of tour that would be required. We must seek so to assist the United Nations effort that a ceasefire becomes effective and leads to a political settlement. Only when there is a political settlement will the need for UN forces in Bosnia gradually disappear. We are actively working towards that.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. We must now move on to the business statement.