United Nations Peacekeeping Operations

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:21 pm on 3rd July 2000.

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Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative 8:21 pm, 3rd July 2000

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for initiating this important debate concerning two such horrific episodes in our history.

On 11th July 1995, just a few months before the end of a three-and-a-half year war, the Bosnian Serb army overran Srebrenica, which had been designated a UN safe area (the same status was given to Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zepa, Bihac and Gorazde). After the horrific slaughter, 8,000 men and boys, anyone who was older than 14 years, were missing. Over 2,500 people have been found in mass graves.

The enclave's inhabitants believed that the presence of 150 Dutch UN peacekeepers and the might of NATO air power would ensure their safety. But Serb forces pushed aside the UN troops and overran Srebrenica with ease. Within 48 hours, the Serbs eliminated the entire population. In the words of a judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia,

"These are truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history".

As William Shawcross wrote in his superb book, Deliver us from Evil,

"This catastrophe exposed more brutally and more geographically than anything else the inconsistencies and inadequacies of the way in which the world was now dealing with disorder and ethnic conflict".

The UN report, based on about 100 interviews with a range of international figures involved in Bosnia, singles out the Bosnian Serb political and military leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, as the,

"architects and implementers of the attempted genocide in Bosnia", and criticises all those who negotiated with them rather than using military force against them in the early stages of the war. It demands that they be brought to trial. They still have not.

While blame is widely distributed, the UN's examination of its own record in Srebrenica breaks new ground by effectively damning the diplomatic nicety of trying to remain neutral and above the fray in civil conflict:

"When the international community makes a solemn promise to safeguard and protect innocent civilians from massacre, then it must be willing to back its promise with the necessary means".

Annan also pointed fingers at UN staff in New York--including himself, UN peacekeepers on the ground in Srebrenica and the six-nation Contact Group which oversees the Balkans.

At the heart of the problem of protecting the safe areas was the refusal of the Security Council members, including the United States, to authorise enough troops to do the job. Boutros Ghali wanted 34,000 troops; the Security Council authorised only 7,400.

The United Nations says that it failed to help save thousands of Bosnian Muslims from a Serb mass murder in 1995 because of errors, misjudgment and,

"an inability to recognise the scope of the evil confronting us".

At the root of the UN failure, according to the Secretary-General, was the Security Council's decision to respond to the war in Bosnia with an arms embargo, humanitarian aid and a peacekeeping force. The arms embargo left the Serbs in a position of overwhelming military dominance and deprived Bosnia of its right to self-defence. And neither humanitarian assistance nor peacekeepers could solve a problem which cried out for a political-military solution.

"The cardinal lesson of Srebrenica is that a deliberate and systematic attempt to terrorise, expel or murder an entire people must be met decisively with all necessary means, and with the political will to carry the policy through to its logical conclusion".

Annan encouraged the 188 UN member states to address issues raised in the report--including the institutional commitment to impartiality even when confronted with attempted genocide, and,

"the persuasive ambivalence within the United Nations regarding the role of force in the pursuit of peace".

After Srebrenica, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, should be commended for that open admission. The question, however, is whether his honesty has provoked bolder peacekeeping.

In the conclusion to his long report, Annan invites UN member states to reflect on,

"the gulf between mandate and means; the inadequacy of a symbolic deterrence in the face of a systematic campaign of violence; the pervasive ambivalence within the United Nations regarding the role of force in the pursuit of peace; and on an institutional ideology of impartiality even when confronted with attempted genocide".

Has it happened yet?

The Economist leader on the horror of Rwanda was entitled,

"A look back at the biggest bloodstain on the world's conscience in the 1990s".

Kofi Annan was brave enough to set up an inquiry which he knew would be critical of his role in the UN's failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda. Annan apologised to the Rwandan people for the UN failures.

There are some 43 lessons identified in the UN report on Rwanda. I shall concentrate in the short time available on lesson 6. It says that member states with specific areas of expertise and capability should contribute troops for those tasks. Emphasis should be placed on capability rather than numbers. Future UN operations will require the right troops with the right equipment.

I am not sure whether I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The blame cannot be laid solely at the door of the UN Secretary-General. On 25th June 1999, the MoD and the FCO announced that British rapid reaction forces were to be made available to the UN under a new arrangement. Defence Secretary George Robertson said:

"The new memorandum of understanding will allow the UN to use the best of Britain's armed forces for peace keeping operations".

The Foreign Secretary added:

"This agreement ... will make a greater number of the UK's front-line forces available to the UN as well as extra support in the form of aircraft, engineers, communications equipment and medical facilities".

But when it was revealed that this would involve committing the entirety of Britain's Armed Forces, even those that we did not possess, the MoD back-tracked. It was a sham; the UK did not sign over the forces to the UN. It was clear that defence policy was being made on the hoof, driven by the whims of the Foreign Secretary rather than the interests of Britain and its Armed Forces.

In the case of Sierra Leone, we have witnessed a painfully slow build up of the UN force that is supposed to protect the civilians in that African country. UNAMSIL is hardly an effective UN force. Today the UN mission in Sierra Leone is still under-strength, under-armed and ineffective. What is HMG doing to ensure that it does not happen again? It also calls into question the will of the world powers to stop atrocities in distant lands and highlights a basic flaw in UN peace-keeping missions where peace-keepers are deployed where there is no peace to keep.

Sometimes the UN's failure is built into its structure. Where a permanent member of the Security Council opposes intervention no action will be authorised, hence the UN's silence about Russia's war crimes in Chechnya and its early impotence on Kosovo. But in cases where the council approves action it is fair to insist that it be serious. The UN member states need to embrace force to secure peace, brush neutrality aside and denounce evil in order to combat it. As Mr Annan so rightly said, the UN mission to end conflict does not preclude moral judgment; on the contrary, it makes it necessary.

Does the United Nations need a stronger mandate? Sir Alexander Cadogan could not see how the council could work as from the very start Stalin insisted that each of the five must have the right to veto any military action voted on by the council. He told the implacable Russian Foreign Minister, one Mr Gromyko, "Look, you cannot have a system in which anybody can stop any order of council. Do you want a world organisation or not?" Gromyko's message from Stalin was "No".

In October 1999 the Security Council authorised the establishment of UNAMSIL, a new and much larger mission with a maximum of 6,000 military personnel, including 260 military observers, to assist the government and the parties in carrying out the provisions of the Lome peace agreement. In February 2000 the Security Council, by resolution 1289, decided to revise the mandate to include a number of additional tasks. It expanded the military component to 11,100. By resolution 1299 of 19th May 2000 the Security Council again increased the authorised strength to 13,000 military personnel, which still included the 260 military observers.

Following the report on Srebrenica and the current crisis in Sierra Leone, should the mandate of UNAMSIL peace keeping be changed to peace enforcement? Should the UN be given adequate powers and resources to restore stability and allow a negotiated peace? From a military perspective and with reference to military doctrine, peace keeping does not apply to a situation where there is no peace to keep. The publication Joint Warfare issued in 1998 now forms the basis of much of the UK's doctrine for peace support operations. Has it been applied in Sierra Leone? Have Her Majesty's Government ever consulted that document? Have the lessons of Bosnia been learnt? How far has the debate gone on the change of the UN mandate on Sierra Leone? It seems that the answer is no. The lessons have not been learnt. The latest moves to strengthen the mandate are hardly encouraging.

What is our commitment worth? Do the Government intend to keep their promises? What reasons do HMG give for not properly supporting the UN Sierra Leone mandate? Will Her Majesty's Government support future UN peace keeping operations in full as the Robertson/Cook commitment seems to indicate, or will it renege once again, leaving us to mount another rescue mission?

With these shameful incidents still fresh in our minds, I end with a quotation from William Shawcross:

"In a more religious time it was only God whom we asked to deliver us from evil. Now we call upon our own man-made institutions for such deliverance. That is sometimes to ask for miracles".